Just The Wind is the kind of film that ought to be experienced rather than enjoyed. It offers a look at the lives of the Romani people living in Hungary, and is based on true events in which Romani homes were attacked, women were raped, and people were murdered by racist gangs between 2008 and 2009.
The film focuses on one particular Romani family, consisting of Mari (Katalin Toldi), her sick elderly father (György Toldi) and two children, Anna (Gyongyi Lendvai) and Rio (Lajos Sarkany). The director has taken a documentary approach to filming and it all feels incredibly real, thanks largely to the actors' natural performances.
Audiences follow Mari's family in their mundane day-to-day lives, and learn that these are normal, decent people who live in poverty, are struggling to make ends meet and subjected to constant acts of discrimination. Mari works different jobs to try to feed the family and repay her debts. Anna, a talented artist, spends her spare time drawing pictures that she sells. Rio travels around the village collecting things from the local forest and items from the houses of the killed families. The fact that five other families in their village have been gunned down is obviously known to them, and while they do not openly discuss about the attacks, their facial expressions give away the fact that they are all nervous.
The film moves along very slowly (perhaps too slowly for some viewers) until its explosive climax, which viewers are already expecting because of the background information provided at the very beginning of the film. However, the climactic scenes offer such stark contrasts with the day's events that they still come across as both shocking and tragic.
In the end, the fate of every member of the family is explained, except for that of Rio's. It is quite possible that director Bence Fliegauf is deliberately leaving that part of the ending open to demonstrate the point that it does not really matter. Even if Rio makes it safely to his underground shelter, does it really mean he has reached safety? And is he going to be free from further racial discrimination and violence? It would seem that 'no' is sadly the answer to both questions.
Just The Wind is an uncompromising film that tells an incredibly sad story. It may not be a film for everyone, but those who are willing to go on the journey would have experienced a most challenging yet rewarding piece of cinema.
(Review originally published during the Sydney International Film Festival in June 2012. The film will screen at TIFF tonight, tomorrow, and next Sunday.)