In an insular rural community where cattle and people exist alongside one another, a man struggles with a shrieking pig as his wife’s son Mihail returns after a long absence. Delta is Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczí³’s award-winning third feature film and it is named after the geographical location where the story unfolds. Set in the verdant Romanian Danube Delta, the film is a simple, universal tale of true love between siblings Mihail and Fauna.
Shortly after Mihail’s arrival, Fauna leaves the parental home in order to devote herself to helping Mihail build a house away from the village. The community’s disapproval of her decision and of the introspective Mihail is felt strongly, encapsulated in a real Straw Dogs moment when Mihail enters the local village bar, his discomfort palpable as the hostile attention of the entire room turns towards him.
The disquiet intensifies as it becomes clear that the pair intend to live together when the house is completed. The stepfather rejects the idea of Mihail and Fauna ‘living together like pigs’. Fauna’s very name alludes to this assimilation of animal and human behaviour in Delta, although the animal metaphor is a complex one. In a scene of sexual violence that recalls the opening pig-handling scene the viewer is distanced from the action by long shot framing and this sense of restraint is characteristic of the film.
As brother and sister grow closer, their flourishing physicality is elliptically suggested rather than explicitly shown and the viewer is again denied another voyeuristic opportunity. In one scene, Mihail and Fauna lie contentedly on the wooden floor of the unfinished house, intimating that their relationship has been consummated. They are framed from above, Fauna gently caresses her tortoise, and in the microcosm of this moment they seem perfectly happy. Their self-containment is interrupted when Mihail opens a door in the floor to board his boat, visually bisecting the space. Fauna’s reluctance to see him go is unsettling, a portent of events to come.
Delta‘s brilliant soundtrack was created by virtuoso violinist Félix Lajkí³, who also played the role of Mihail. Taking inspiration from the Delta region, he composed the music as filming took place. Also notable are the hammer symphony that scores the building of the house and the fervent cacophony of insects whirring over an earlier scene of acute sexual tension between Fauna and Mihail. The use of Popol Vuh’s music to accompany the ethereal floating funeral procession made me wonder if, like Werner Herzog, who used their music in several films, Mundruczí³ wishes to impart to his audience the indifference of nature to mankind.
Drawing from Shakespeare’s classic revenge tragedy Hamlet and Euripides’ Electra, the siblings’ downfall is duly played out, their circumstances and familial relations contriving towards their destruction as surely as the river flows. I am reminded of Andrey Zvyagintsev’s debut The Return (2003), which also features a fractured family floundering amid a vast and tranquil wilderness. The natural setting of both films is cinematically impressive and the characters are not hindered by their environment but by each other; the brutality of human nature ultimately overcomes and destroys the protagonists of Delta of in spite of their resilience. The immutability and impartiality of nature further accentuates the humans’ violent tendencies; in the closing shot of Delta, Fauna’s adored pet tortoise crawls slowly along in total oblivion to the fate of its keeper.