The second feature film of Árpád Bogdán does not focus on the consistent exploration of a series of tragic events, but on their human dramas. BY MÁRK ZALÁN
The series of murders against Roma people in 2008-2009 was one of the most devastating crimes in post-1989 Hungary. Six of those attacked died (among them a five year old child), five were severely wounded. It cannot be repeated enough that a mere ten years ago there were murders with a racist motive in the heart of Europe, in one of the EU member states, and the society that is inclined to forget needs to be constantly reminded of the incomprehensible tragedy, as hate is still not asleep in our days.
Socially sensitive artists did not omit to react to the events. In the past years we saw a number of adaptations, among them the true crime feature film of Bence Flieglauf that won the Silver Bear in Berlin (Just the wind, 2011), the book summarizing court proceedings, Profile in the East (written by András B. Vágvölgyi), and the most shocking Hungarian documentary of recent years that also tracked the murder trials, Judgment in Hungary (director: Eszter Hajdú).
The row of films dealing with the Roma murders is continued by the new work of Árpád Bogdán. This new enterprise of the young director is by no means an analysis of or a reasoning about the serial murders, the point of view from which he shows his heroes is not objective but subjective, verging on intrusion into the private sphere of the characters. The personal tone is complemented by imaginary, fable-like motifs, which have already made their debut in Bogdan’s first film that had autobiographical components to it.
In the story of the nameless, marginalized protagonist of Happy New Life (2006), the magical elements parting with and filtering the realist style were put in the spotlight, and we have a similar situation in the case of Genesis as well. Let it suffice to mention the dog-eating man with the gun, or the mother of our central character, who tries to make everything happening around them more understandable with the tale of the white-faced dragon.
Bogdán’s new film is a much bolder and more ambitious undertaking compared to his previous work, showing three dramatic fates connected to the attacks. The protagonist of the first chapter is Ricsi, whose peaceful, albeit sad (his father is in jail for stealing wood) childhood stops short in the blink of an eye when his family is slaughtered by unknown perpetrators. The second story is about the adolescent girl, Virág, who wants to have a baby at any cost, and who discovers a dreadful secret: his boy-friend, the father of her baby yet to be born was the one giving the extremists committing the murders a ride to the sites of the killings. In the centre of the third story is Hanna, a young, successful lawyer living with a heart-wrenching tragedy, who defends Virág’s boy-friend in court.
Although the stories of the three central characters are connected by the murders, the fact that they are all victims of tragedies facing a grave moral decision is a much stronger link between them all. One of the great virtues of Genesis is that it is able to make these stories highly personal and intimate. Bogdán’s camera (through the flawless work of Tamás Dobos) often intrudes into the personal spaces of the characters, we see (in the case of Ricsi we are looking upwards to the grown-ups) and hear (Virág has a hearing aid) what they do. As a result the film provokes emotional identification from the viewer, and makes moments such as the ambush on Ricsi’s home or Hanna colouring the unfinished drawing of her dead child all the more crushing. Immersion is further helped by the lyrical music of Mihály Víg, which never tilts into the realm of kitsch, it retains its tone of melancholy.
An important strength of the film is Bogdán’s consistent, flowing script, the pace of which does not abate for a second. Not even when the excessive repetition, cutting in of certain scenes (industrial complexes in the second, Hanna’s incessant running in the third chapter) renders the narration somewhat bumpy. And we cannot leave the excellent casting unmentioned. Milán Csordás playing Ricsi gives an exceptional performance, his acting as well as his presence and especially expressive gaze are so remarkable that it evokes the countenance of the characters in Gypsies, the 1962 lyrical documentary of Sándor Sára. Similar praise is due to Enikő Anna Illés for her portrayal of the tough, spirited, at the same time fragile Virág, and to Annamária Cseh playing the lawyer.
The humanity of Genesis is perhaps the most likeable feature of the film. Bogdán is honestly preoccupied with his heroes’ tragedies and struggles, which are not diminished into local problems, but are expended to become universal. This attitude is also justified by the fact that the director does not perform a post mortem on the motives of the perpetrators, but makes a general observation about the constant presence of Evil – another reminder of the more abstract, fable-like layer of the film. No individual or group can be singled out for the participation in the murders, because - and Bogdán is pretty frank about this all along - we are all responsible for what has happened. The whole of society that has allowed this to come to pass.
Genesis is the work of a self-confident, mature director, who backs assuming responsibility, humanity, new starts and getting back to the grass roots against unfathomable hatred still rampant in our day and age. His film is an important, current piece of work, we can only hope that it reaches as many viewers as possible.