I never thought much about being a child again, but the more atrocities I am confronted with in the news lately, the more I wish I had a different view of the world and didn’t have to think about things like violence and police brutality, xenophobia, and discrimination against minorities. Instead, I wish I could pick flowers in a meadow, or build myself a secret getaway in the woods like the children in Just the Wind.
We don’t know what’s going on in these children’s minds, but we watch them for a day and follow them to school and through the green areas near their house. Something horrible has happened which the film hasn’t shown: four Roma families have been murdered in their houses and the small community near the woods tries to go on with their lives despite their constant fear. It’s only the children who don’t seem to fully understand the dimensions of the crimes against what the police officers call “gypsies.” We are in Hungary and we are surrounded by poverty and misery that only surfaces clearly when the camera concentrates on the grown-ups.
It’s then that we see the working conditions of a mother who cleans school toilets and picks up trash near the roads. We encounter a couple that lives in a secluded shack with barely any lights. But in a child’s world these conditions leave different impressions than in an adult’s mind; once we leave these places, we discover the couple’s daughter playing peacefully on a small blanket in the sun.
Director Bence Fliegauf decided to work with non-actors and a camera that is constantly in motion, closely following its protagonists while they walk through the day. The style of the film is extremely unpolished and documentary-like – Fliegauf is after a certain kind of realism that he captures both in its ugliness and in its beauty. The magic of the foggy morning landscapes and the beams of sunlight that tickle the camera eye create moments of hope and tenderness that are necessary to be able to cope with the rest of the everyday reality he is showing us.
I might be wrong and the children might understand everything perfectly. Maybe they understand the concept of hatred against ethnic minorities and maybe I am projecting my own desire to shelter them from their own poverty. The small girl picking flowers probably doesn’t understand, but the older boy Rió surely does when at the end he warns his family that “they are coming”. The sounds he hears used to be just the wind or the squealing of a pig that Rió buries later. But this time, it’s serious and all innocence disappears with the sound of the shotguns.
I have to admit I found it extremely difficult to write about this film. It’s challenging to describe the beauty of cinematography in a film that circles around racist murders at a time when racist murders like the assassination of Trayvon Martin make the world’s stomach churn. It’s also difficult to watch poverty from a privileged perspective and then come up with critical judgements such as „gripping“ or „touching“. Because of its documentary style and the fact that the film is based in true events, it’s also difficult to analyse the fiction that we are presented. Director Fliegauf was therefore smart enough to put the kids at the centre of his film and often shift the perspective from the awareness of a grown-up to the awareness of a child.
Watching children’s reactions to the banning of a Cheerio commercial that features a mixed race couple was a good antidote to the current state of things. None of the kids understood what the problem was and proved something that you might also take away from Just the Wind: that there is hope.
Csak a szél (Just the Wind), Hungary, Germany, France, 2012, 86 min.
director: Benedek Fliegauf, cinematography: Zoltán Lovasi, actors: Katalin Toldi, Gyöngyi Lendvai, Lajos Sárkány, György Toldi, language: Hungarian, distribution: Peripher Filmverleih
Berlin screenings: Fsk, Hackesche Höfe, Krokodil