Spiral

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Spiral
"Elemental imagery is to the fore, while Gábor Császár's sound design adds to the sense of unease, with buzzing flies and maggots noisily squirming in a bucket before Bence tips them into the lake." | Photo: Courtesy of Warsaw Film Festival

Cecília Felméri's assured debut begins with a camera travelling across the reflection of a Hungarian fishing lake - at once a familiar scene and yet dislocated by the perspective, ideas that will resonate throughout this psychological drama that finds strength in subtlety. This is a place where the idyllic meets the isolated, as Bence (Bogdan Dumitrache, bringing a similarly heavyweight emotional performance to his turn in Pororoca) and his partner Janka (Diána Magdolna Kiss) try to get the place he has inherited from his father back on its feet, despite the fact that fish are mysteriously dying - the vague sense of unease in the film's opening moments underlined by one or two fish corpses drifting by.

Although there's a bond, the click of connection sparked by watching your lover messily eating a tomato or the right glance on a lazy afternoon, there's also a spikiness to a relationship that sees Bence wedded more to the lakeside than he is to Janka, with sex less passionate than perfunctory and the sudden addition of coriander to a duck recipe as much a bone of contention as Janka's text messages about a job back in the city. Into the lake, meanwhile, comes a batch of hybrid "Terminator carp", who'll snap up a dead rabbit with no problem, once they're trained to feed by the buoy - its paint old but still red-flecked for danger - that marks the water's deepest part.

Copy picture

Seasons change and the relationship cools with them. Spring finds Janka gone and Bence filled with regrets that surface on the cusp of waking. Felméri underpins all the emotions with nature, which is a constant presence in the film and often filled with portent - a bird hitting a window, another with a broken wing. Elemental imagery is to the fore, while Gábor Császár's sound design adds to the sense of unease, with buzzing flies and maggots noisily squirming in a bucket before Bence tips them into the lake.

The seasons are circling and so are emotions as romantic prospects arrive courtesy of Nóra (Alexandra Borbély, On Body And Soul), who is helping Bence to try to get a grant for the place. But lakes are a static thing, enduring in the way of habit, and it seems Bence's way of going about relationships may be just as habitual. Although it's not immediately obvious, his viewpoint is to the fore throughout the film, so we barely notice we are seeing Janka and, subsequently, Nóra through his eyes at first, with Dumitrache bringing emotional depth to every move. Felméri doesn't push her metaphors, instead taking us swimming in slowly rising pyschological waters and letting them drift to the surface, helped by handsome camerawork from György Réder that never over-uses the lake itself - so that we see connections of colour and habit just as Bence also begins to recognise the repetition. This still water runs deep.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2020
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Spiral packshot
Tensions rise for a couple who have moved to a fishing lake.

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