The collapse of the ecosystem - review of Cecília Felméri's Spiral


    Spiral by Cecília Felméri is a film that elopes strict genre frames. A poetic portrait of an old house by a forest pond, somewhere in the Hungarian wilderness, gives space to enter into the depths of not only the elements of nature – earth, water and fire – but also into the minds of heroes torn by life doubts and emotions pulsating just under the skin, at the tip of the tongue. A full-of-regrets story about the crisis of relationship is brutally cut short by a personal tragedy, and the drama is echoed by a disturbing atmosphere of a beautiful, albeit sad place, as well as omnipresent loneliness, alienation and lack of communication.

    We know that Bence (Bogdan Dumitrche) and Janka (Diána Magdolna Kiss) are going through a crisis of relationship from the moment they appear on the screen. Although – mirroring the charming neighborhood they live – there is silence between them. It is a silence full of tension and dissatisfaction. Bence would like to build a quiet life in a forest corner, Janka would rather start working at school. What's more, the nature around the characters seems to react to the amount of internal friction and animosity. More and more fish in the pond are dying, and the reason for this micro-ecological collapse is a secret from even Bence, who in the past worked as a school biologist. Just like the aggressive catfish that the protagonist will put into the pond – following the advice of a friend – to move the fossilized system of flora and fauna, in the life of the couple will come changes that will move and break their ecosystem.

    The director guides her characters sparingly, consciously using the natural setting, slowly enjoying the silence, the self-building atmosphere and going deeper and deeper into the center of psychology. Dumitrche's gloomy performance is charismatic – flashes of carefully hidden emotions work much more effectively than if these emotions were to come to the fore in one big burst.

    Spiral focuses on male tragedy – which is particularly interesting as the film was written and shot by a woman. Felméri does not judge, but simply watches. She does not evaluate any of the attitudes – not when Bence seems deaf to his partner's mute voice about the need for independence or when he breaks down, abandoning all responsibilities and drowning in his own sense of guilt.

    A place that was supposed to be almost magical ceases to be coherent. There are too many repetitions of metaphors – dead animals, birds trying to fly home, dead fish, changing seasons, etc. – which slowly turns the film from poetic subtlety into repetitive roughness. It is a pity that due to the number of metaphors there was not enough room for a non-male perspective.

    The images captured by György Réder harmonize well with the characters' emotions and create a unique atmosphere of a quiet, lonely place away from civilization. It is the visual layer that makes the film – despite the overwhelmingly dark subject matter – easy to watch.

    Spiral, as the director's full-length debut, presents itself as a mature work, which shows the author's developing style. And although it is not without its drawbacks, it should be remembered that in ecosystems – especially creative ecosystems – achieving the right balance is a time-consuming process and requires delicacy. Nobody wants to end up in a spiral.