It’s tempting to compare Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s slow-moving minimalism in Delta with his compatriot Béla Tarr (one of the film’s producers), but the epic grandeur of the film’s locations and the almost mythological quasi-religious content of its subject matter suggest closer affinity to Terence Malick or Theo Angelopolous. And while a repeat viewing of the film doesn’t make those themes any easier to interpret or indeed make the film’s difficult content any easier to watch, the uncompromising nature of those how those themes are developed, when matched with the visual splendour on display, simply confirm its magnificence.
The difficult content is based around big themes of lust, jealousy and intolerance, which become expressed in the taboo material of incest and of murder. The couple living in defiance of those social laws are brother and sister, the man (Félix Lajkó) having just returned to the delta after a number of year’s absence. He is not made welcome by either his family or the natives of the region who visit the bar owned by his mother and stepfather (Lili Monori and Sándor Gáspár). Their attitude to the man doesn’t improve any when his sister (Orsolya Tóth) leaves the home where she has doubtless been much abused, to work on the building of a house where they plan to live together in a way that is closer than that of brother and sister.
Mundruczó’s handling of the material is simple yet grand, aiming for a directness of expression that matches the primordial nature of the content. Human and social interaction is laid out plainly, pure raw emotions are expressed without the dissemblance of civilised behaviour or the niceties of social conditioning – but pure doesn’t necessarily mean good. Old and New Testament imagery abounds, from the Garden of Eden location to the construction of a haven from the corruption of society that suggests the building of an ark, from the breaking of bread to the blood sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Whether this has any coherent or meaningful purpose is debatable, but showing a glimpse of liberty and paradise lost, the emotions and behaviour displayed unfortunately ring all too true.
The Disc: The improved quality of recent ICA Films releases had me hoping for something a little more for this particular film – a HD release on Blu-ray was however perhaps somewhat unreasonable – but essentially, their DVD release of Delta is a barebones affair. At least the quality of the transfer, presented anamorphically at a ratio of 1.78:1 is excellent, the image capturing the wonderful warmth of the colour tones and the beauty of Mátyás Erdély’s exquisite cinematography. There’s a little bit more grain than you would expect and some minor flickering of telecine or macroblocking artefacts, but essentially the image remains stable, not capturing the full vibrancy of the theatrical presentation, but coming close enough. The fixed bold white subtitles ruin the effect somewhat, but they are appropriately sized. There is not that much dialogue for this to become an irritation. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is not really anything more than adequate – a surround mix is surely demanded for this film – and it can be slightly dull and echoing in places. There are no extra features.