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Delta (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 9, 2023



DELTA (2008)

Starring Félix Lajkó, Orsolya Tóth, Lili Monori, Sándor Gáspár, Lajos Bertók and Martin Wuttke.

Screenplay by Yvette Biro.

Directed by Kornél Mundruczó.

Distributed by Facets Multimedia.  96 minutes.  Not Rated.

Incest is such an incendiary subject that it is rather surprising how low-key and quiet this beautifully-shot Hungarian film on the subject ends up being.

Delta is actually rather chaste about its controversial subject.  The film does not exploit the potential titillation in the relationship between a brother and sister who first meet as adults and bond together to escape the harsh life in her callous small village.

The brother returns to his hometown one day after years living away from his mother.  The reasons for this separation are never explored, however, he finds his mother not all that excited to have him back, living with a new husband and introducing him to the grown sister he has never known.

The siblings, both quiet and depressive sorts, find a bond in their mutual feeling of being out of place in this world.  When the brother decides to move into a rundown hut on a small island nearby that was owned by their father (whose absence is also not explained).  The sister follows him, partially because she is glad to meet this unknown sibling, partially in an attempt to get away from her mother and the abusive stepfather.

Soon the nosey villagers are shunning the brother and sister and many rumors pop up about the inappropriateness of their relationship – most of these spurred by the stepfather.  Therefore, the two decide to build a home way out on the water of a lake, a private little haven that will keep them safe from the world around them.

While there does seem to be a bit of a romantic tension between the two main characters, nothing really seems to have happened when these stories arise.  In fact, throughout the film they are very coy about the relationship.  We never actually specifically see anything inappropriate happening between the brother and sister.

We never see them having sex, for example.  We do once see them asleep together – but it is on the floor of the unfinished house, so it could be explained away due to lack of bedding or the need for warmth on a partially walled home on the Danube River.  We think we know what happened, but there is no proof.

Even the two times that the two seem to kiss are purposely camouflaged by the camera angles.  One shows what appears to be a kiss, but shot from behind his back, with her totally blocked by him and his face completely obscured.  Later, they show his feet and hers as they stand in front of each other, and you see her getting up on her tiptoes.  Again, it seems likely we know what is happening, but there is no way that you can say it without a doubt.  We are never sure what the context of what has occurred is – simply because we never exactly see it.

There are even two scenes in which the sister is briefly naked in the presence of the brother, but neither is in any way sexual – one has him nursing her when she is sick and the other has him waking to find her bathing in the lake.

Other disturbing scenes – such as a violent sexual assault which takes place in the town – are also filmed with this same shy touch.  That assault is filmed in such a long shot that the audience can not tell for sure what is being done – though they have an idea – until after it has happened.  All we can say before is that it is some kind of physical altercation.

Delta has a moody beauty that can be both fascinating and occasionally a bit exasperating.  For example, the gorgeous old-fashioned scenery – somewhat reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven – is luxuriated in at the expense of the story.  The film is confident enough to have long periods made up of little or no dialogue.  However, this lack of talking also obscures much of the detail which should make up the story.

Both main characters are introverted types.  While it gives the movie a dreamy beauty, it also makes parts of the film seem underexplored.  We are always wondering about these two character’s back stories.  Why was he gone for so long?  Why did he come back?  How is it possible that they had never heard of each other?  Why is the mother always so distant towards both of her children?  Why is the village so ready to assume the worst about the two instead of just thinking they are siblings who are sharing a home?

For that matter, as discussed before, the film’s coy structure also makes one unsure if there is any romantic relationship between these at all – though this is of course the movie’s intention.  They are trying to make us somewhat complicit with the village if we believe the worse.

Still, this lack of background and communication makes much of what happens in the film a bit hard to gauge – particularly a shocking act of violence towards the end of the film which seems to come out of nowhere.  In fact, the result of that act is also left somewhat ambiguous.

Perhaps Delta is trying to show us that we can never really know the answers to other people’s stories, no matter how much we may feel we do.  Perhaps, as so often happens in European films, it is just because they believe ambiguity is to be embraced rather than feared, as the filmmakers want you to think about what happened without having to spell it all out.

Either way, despite an occasionally overly slow and somewhat vague plotline, Delta does inspire deep thought.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: February 26, 2010.

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