Natural Light


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Natural Light
"Unlike many first-time directors who have the urge to cram more and more in, Nagy and his co-writer Pál Závada instead strip things back, letting the trudge of the men tell its own tale." | Photo: Courtesy of Berlinale

Away from the blaze of the battlefield, the grind of war on footsoldiers has come to the fore in films of late, from Christopher Nolan's wearied troops in Dunkirk to Lithuanian director Margat Sargsyan's old soldier's eye view in The Flood Won't come. There are no specific battle lines drawn in this measured and compelling fiction feature debut from Dénes Nagy, either, set somewhere in the Soviet occupied territory of the Second World War, where a small troop of Hungarian soldiers roam the woodland and countryside on the hunt for partisans.

The natural light here is mostly cold and grey, the earth sodden and sometimes snow-covered, while the enemy, for much of the film, seemingly little more physical than the mist that hangs about the trees. The lack of chat betrays the weariness of the troops, with Nagy emphasising their physical exertions - whether its hacking apart an elk that they commandeer from a hunter or straining at ropes in an attempt to help their horses drag a cart out of the mud. Corporal Semetka (Ferenc Szabó) becomes our guide, of sorts, although his face betrays little, an apparent emotional emptiness that also speaks volumes about the rigours of war. Tamás Dobos' camera sticks with him so closely that, though employed in much more naturalistic fashion, recalls likes of fellow Hungarian filmmaker Son Of Saul, we are often hearing rather than seeing what is going on or seeing events reflected in his face rather than watching the action directly.

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Nagy - who won the Best Director Silver Bear in Berlin for his trouble and whose film has already hit the circuit at Vilnius International Film Festival - has a background in documentary and it's evident in the way he captures and lingers on detail. Unlike many first-time directors who have the urge to cram more and more in, Nagy and his co-writer Pál Závada instead strip things back, letting the trudge of the men tell its own tale - the slow unfolding also permitting the Dobos' to give the action a painterly sweep. Perhaps that's also why Nagy decided to cast non-professionals, so that the actors didn't get the urge to over-embellish the tale.

With scant dialogue, we like the troops become hyper aware of the smallest noise, from scrunched paper, whose crackly relaxing almost seems to be screaming, "Guilty!" to a ragged breath heard but ignored in an infrequent betrayal of the spark that hasn't quite yet gone out in Semetka's soul. Trouble will come to this band of men and, after it, to the villagers who they have met along the way and as these events unfold, Nagy makes no attempt to avoid signposting them, something some may find predictable but which, on a more primal level, feeds into his film's general mood of the cold inevitably of brutal acts of war.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2021
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A company of soldiers hunt for partisans in occupied Soviet territory during the Second World War.
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Director: Dénes Nagy

Writer: Dénes Nagy, Pál Závada

Starring: Ferenc Szabó, László Bajkó, Tamás Garbacz, Gyula Franczia, Stuhl Erno, Szilágyi Gyula, Mareks Lapeskis, Kozó Krisztián, Nánási Csaba, Fodor Zsolt, Mondovics Mihály, Barta József, Illés Pál, Szeverényi János, Besenyei Ferenc

Year: 2021

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Latvia, Germany, Hungary, France


BIFF 2021
London 2021

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