Natural Light confronts Hungary’s complicity in war crimes against pro-Soviet ‘partisans’ during World War II.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
Bathed in gravitas, with a deliberate meditative quality, Dénes Nagy’s deep-seated drama Natural Light confronts Hungary’s complicity in war crimes against pro-Soviet ‘partisans’ during World War II. Adapted from a storyline within a larger novel of the same name by politically active countryman Pál Závada, Nagy’s narratively spare film conveys as much in the careworn faces of its non-professional cast as it does in its economical dialogue – in particular, the sober yet expressive visage of lead, Ferenc Szabó, as out-of-his-depth corporal Semetka, unexpectedly thrust into leadership of his squad.
Natural Light glories in its earthy rural setting with arresting cinematography, showcasing slow-flowing rivers and frigid forests, soldiers slogging through thick mud, and wary villagers huddling in rustic dwellings. The Hungarian filmmaker’s affinity to Tarkovsky seems apparent in Natural Light’s several visual touchstones to Ivan’s Childhood, another film including a harrowing story of partisan resistance. Unsurprisingly, Nagy took the Silver Bear for Best Director at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. — Jacob Powell
“...beautifully shot, mesmerising images, remarkable direction and a masterful control of every aspect of the craft of filmmaking, a narration that transcends its historical context. A portrait of war in which the observant gaze of the director reminds us again of the need to choose between passivity and taking individual responsibility.” — Berlin International Film Festival