A portrait of a well-meaning man caught in events he cannot control and understands all too late, Hungarian Denes Nagy’s Berlin Competition entry “Natural Light” has a first trailer, shared exclusively with Variety by sales company Luxbox.
Set in icy marshland in Russia during WWII, “Natural Light” accompanies corporal István Semetka, drafted into a Hungarian unit whose mission is to locate and kill Russian partisans hiding in the woodlands.
Lodging at a benighted village whose houses are wooden shacks, its peasantry slopping down its muddy street sometimes shoe-less, Semetka’s company takes a route out of the hamlet recommended by the head of the village and comes under guerrilla fire, the company head being killed. When a sergeant major arrives to take command, the reprisal against the village will no doubt haunt Semetka for the rest of his days.
Lead produced by Hungary’s Campfilm, and co-produced by Latvia’s Mistrus Media, France’s Lilith Films, Germany’s Propellerfilm, Belgium’s Novak Prod. and Hungary’s Proton Cinema, “Natural Light” marks the feature debut of a fiction and TV documentary director whose short, “Soft Rain,” premiered at the Cannes Festival’s 2013 Directors’ Fortnight.
The trailer features at least five shots of Semetka simply gazing, as well as the faces of villagers caught in close-up, the wintry landscapes and cutaway detail. An “in-present” portrait of a man at war, Semetka is attentive to physical detail — his grimed fingernails or the rag he uses as a sock in his water-logged boots.
Plucked from a very small part of Hungarian Pal Závada’s 600-page novel, the film’s heart, however, says Nagy, is “the problem of not seeing clearly.” Semetka witnesses a terrible atrocity, which he may have been able to stop. But he doesn’t seem to anticipate it coming. Nor does he question the futility of the Hungarian army, allies of Nazi Germany, marching from one village to the next, alienating their populations.
“I wanted to observe a man who is not fully aware of what choices he must face,” Nagy says in a director’s statement. “What are the things that lead him to becoming part of a killing? What choices he didn’t make on the way? This is interesting for me. And there is no clear answer to this.” he adds.
That, he continues, has a large resonance in current times: “We think that we have acquired a clear judgment about things around us, we believe that we know what’s our task in life. The film wants to question this image of ourselves. It wants to show how fragile this image is.”