A young man (Félix Lajkó) returns to his village on the Danube delta after many years. Little is revealed about the time that has passed since his departure, but he is greeted by a stepfather he has never met before, as well as his mother and sister (Orsi Tóth).
A seemingly happy occasion, the man’s return fractures the family. He decides to build a house out in the marshes, and his sister follows him – at first to help out, and later to live with him. As their relationship becomes increasingly close and intimate, they elicit the disapproval of their family and eventually of the community too.
Mundruczó’s delta is an astonishingly beautiful expanse of land and water, but it is also a tough, wild frontier, its people hardened and unforgiving. Within it, the doomed love affair between brother and sister unfolds gradually and with the utmost delicacy, accompanied by a sumptuous score – as textured and panoramic as the landscape – composed and played in part by lead actor Felix Lajko himself. The simple narrative is established with sparing dialogue, but the film is rich with the distinct mood of each setting and the intense emotional currents generated by each character, from the playful longing of the sister for her brother to the festering discontent of the stepfather.
Delta chooses not to wrestle with incest as an issue to be examined, preferring the childlike innocence and purity of the love affair to speak for itself. However simple and natural it may seem to the brother and sister, however, it constitutes a luxury that is unbearable to those around them. It’s this that makes it an affront and a source of jealousy to the villagers, rather than any structured moral judgment.
The precise aesthetic of the film amplifies the brutality that is to arise from the choices of the pair. After a momentary calm, the delta reveals itself to be a place where a brutal and absolute sort of justice – not love – will prevail. So in spite of the indisputable beauty of Delta, its eventual bleakness and violence and lack of any enduring message beyond a hopeless loss made me leave the cinema feeling not only heartbroken, but horrified.(eyeforfilm.co.uk)
A warning about spoilers is necessary before I rehearse my scepticism about this self-consciously beautiful film by Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó, which last year won the Fipresci prize at Cannes. With its elegantly slow pace, extended tracking long-shots, protracted close-ups of faces in profile and boisterous, black-comic scenes in scuzzy bars, it owes something to Béla Tarr, who is thanked in the opening credits.
Félix Lajkó plays Mihail, a young man who returns to his village after a long time away, having made a good deal of money. After an uneasy reunion with his widowed mother (Lili Monori) and her new boyfriend (Sándor Gáspar) he meets, for the first time, his grown-up sister Fauna, played by Orsolya Tóth – and falls in love with her. To the outrage of Fauna’s stepfather, Mihail takes her away to live with him as his lover in the wooden stilt-house he is building in the swollen Danube delta: a remote, beautiful wetland. The film, with some wonderful cinematography, has a woozy, humid feel, before the village’s collective disgust at the couple’s sexual transgression flashes out – inevitably, at the woman (although she has also been assaulted midway through the film).
Delta also contains what I have come to think of as an “arthouse rape”: a flourish of sexual violence that, in some sacrificial sense, pays for the indulgence and drifting dreaminess, and which functions as a brutally corrective assertion of tough reality. The sexual assault (and perhaps worse) provides what is apparently a self-explanatory resolution. The consequences are of no interest; the rape wraps it up. Mihail is also attacked – but not with the same drawn-out humiliation and fear. The movie is lovely looking, but frankly a little specious and shallow.(Peter Bradshaw-The Guardin)