Hungary has a film at the Berlin International Film Festival which began this week. Just the Wind (Csak a szél), directed by Bence Fliegauf, will have its world premiere at the festival next Thursday.
It shows one day, which turns out to be the last day, in the life of a Roma family. For 90 minutes viewers witness their unvarnished everyday life, which is marked above all by pressing financial troubles.
In the most adverse circumstances an extremely strong mother tries to raise her children alone – her husband is working abroad somewhere in the West.
Confrontation with stark reality of Roma murders
On that day, for example, she bravely and resolutely sends packing a usurer, who pays regular visits to brutally remind her of his demands.
Even that the film, competing against several hundred others, was invited to show at the most important European film festival next to Cannes is considered a great success by all those involved. “I am very proud that we have made it this far,” said the former Hollywood producer and current government commissioner for the Hungarian film industry, Andrew Vajna. The Hungarian state supported the production of Just the Wind in more than one way (more on this later).
What is remarkable is that all the main characters are played by amateurs, selected by Fliegauf at castings. A viewer would not realise that the actors have no professional background, instead admiring the authenticity of the action and the characters.
It is remarkable how well Fliegauf prepared them for their complex roles and encouraged them to remain true to themselves for the film. The actors, for example, use their everyday language, even when it is extremely crude. The film benefits greatly from that.
In the past Fliegauf had preferred to use a mixture of professionals and amateurs, and in one of his very first films he is said to have done without professional actors altogether. Just the Wind co-producer András Muhi says Fliegauf’s work has tended to profit from doing so because the director has a “good eye” for selecting actors and an excellent feel for the milieus in which his films are set.
Muhi and Fliegauf have been working together for years. “I have worked on all Fliegauf’s films as a producer,” Muhi says. In the last ten years this has meant five motion pictures, three short films and two documentaries. Muhi describes Fliegauf as “one of Hungary’s most successful directors”.
The director’s work has already found recognition abroad, he notes. His films Forest and Dealer for example, have won prizes in Berlin and Milky Way in Locarno. Muhi praises Fliegauf for having depicted the “stark reality” in his latest project without any flourishes or intellectual additions. “It is a very beautiful and elegant film,” he says.
Given Fliegauf’s previous string of successes, wasn’t it risky coming out with a film like this? Muhi responds that “Fliegauf is among those directors who will make something worth watching and interesting regardless of what kind of film they make”. Professional recognition is simply the logical consequence of that, Muhi says. In any case, independently of the topic, Just the Wind is very much in the Fliegauf style.
To illustrate this point Muhi refers to the constant use of hand-held camera and very sparing use of additional lighting (recalling the approach of Lars von Trier), two of the director’s basic principles. Muhi regards the film as “an important step in modernising the Hungarian language of film”.
Fighting a headwind
Muhi’s colleague and co-producer Mónika Mécs views the fact that the film could be made as a great success in itself. In 2010 it almost failed at the first attempt. Three weeks before the start of filming, the Hungarian Film Foundation, which had promised financial support, closed down. Everything that had been prepared in painstaking detail suddenly fell apart. “At that time it looked as if nothing would ever come of the project,” Mécs admits.
The impulse to make the film came from the series of murders of indiscriminately chosen members of the Hungarian Roma minority just months earlier. An intensive search for funding began. Because the old film foundation no longer existed and the new fund of which Vajna is in charge did not exist at that point, sponsors from the business sector were the main hope. In the end, companies including lottery company Szerencsejáték, electricity distributor MVM, the Paks nuclear power station and car dealership Porsche Hungaria chose to support the project.
Finally the Ministry of National Resources, to which the Ministry of Culture was transferred, also agreed to provide funding. So did the department of the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice that deals with integration. The project also benefitted from the favourable tax conditions for film productions in Hungary.
Through such support from the private sector and the state, sufficient funds came together to cover HUF 70-80 million (EUR 240,359-274,755) of the costs of making the film in Hungary. The remainder of the roughly HUF 150 million (EUR 515,165) needed for the low-budget production, as Mécs describes it, was provided by the two other co-producers involved in the project, Rebekka Garrido of Paprika Film (Germany) and Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin of The Match Factory (France).
Was it difficult acquiring funding for a film dealing with the Roma issue? Without wishing to go into the motives of the individual sponsors in more detail, Mécs stresses that it was clear, at the ministries in particular, how important this topic is.
Production a victory in itself
She herself finds it a “great thing” that Fliegauf has addressed the Roma issue. “There are Roma problems everywhere in Europe. The question is that of whether the given society confronts those problems or sweeps them under the carpet.” The fact that the film was supported in Hungary by two ministries shows that a process of “addressing reality” has begun, she says. In her view problems can only be tackled and remedied in such a way.
The film, however, can be regarded only as a “small step towards solving the Roma problem across Europe”, Mécs says. As for the risk that the film and the intentions of its makers will be misinterpreted, she makes clear: “I don’t want to deal with politics. That isn’t my field. As an artistic creator I feel and see what I would like to show. That is the limit of my competence. What the political sphere does with it and how the film is used is no longer up to me.”
The state secretary for integration issues, József Balog, whose ministry gave HUF 5 million (EUR 17,163) in funding, sees it as a “valuable contribution” towards “ending the social paralysis” induced by people simply not being able to get their head around the Roma murders in Hungary. The content is “deeply disturbing” according to Balog, who so far has not been able to see more than half of the film. He stresses, however, that the plot, however much it may recall reality, is nevertheless purely fictitious.
Not easy to watch
When deciding to sponsor the film, the ministry had only a rough idea about its approach. However, that was sufficient to decide to support the project. “It’s good to see that our decision has been confirmed subsequently by the Berlinale jurors’ invitation to the film to show at the festival,” Balog says.
He believes there is a real risk that Just the Wind’s merciless depiction of the grim everyday life of the Roma could exceed the bounds of what the faint-hearted can tolerate. “If there is such criticism we will confront it openly,” he says.” The state secretary remarks here that it would be commendable if other countries looked their problems with groups on the edge of society “in the eyes as directly as us”.
Speaking about the series of murders committed in 2008, Balog says it fills him with horror when he thinks of the parallels between the Roma killings and the murders of the Zwickau terror cell. In both cases the authorities (in Hungary the Office for National Security and in Germany the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) failed despite being surprisingly close on the heels of the alleged perpetrators in advance of the crimes. In both cases the state failed to shoulder its responsibility to protect its citizens.