Natural Light (Természetes fény)
The Russian Winter has defeated some of the most formidable armies of tyrants throughout history. Brutal and unforgiving, only those native to the land can survive and thrive based on their traditional knowledge of taking what little the land can give them. Dénes Nagy’s poignant feature debut examines a rarely seen angle of WWII: hundreds of thousands of Hungarian soldiers occupied Russian territory, their job was to survey the lands and convince the locals to defect but more often or not, Russian resilience proved to be indefatigable.
The story of Natural Light focuses on István Semetka (Ferenc Szabó), a corporal in a special unit tasked with travelling from village to village in search of partisan troops. One day, his unit is ambushed and the leading officer is killed, forcing István to take control. Leading the battered battalion back to an annexed village, he must confront the ugly realities of handling such a weighty authority.
The audience is treated to some stunning composition as the eponymous character (the natural light) takes centre stage. Nagy immerses the viewer in the mud, casting dim light on the actor’s weather-worn faces. Dialogue is sparse, rather the ear is pricked by sounds of boots stomping in mud, crushing branches underneath. The eye-straining colour palette of browns and greys is reminiscent of the pathos in Gustave Courbet’s Burial at Ornans. The intensity of the setting is palpable as the soldiers struggle to survive in the harsh quagmire that becomes more and more hellish.
István struggles with the moral choices as he avoids conflict and sees the villagers as human beings, unlike the rest of his unit. The tension between the occupiers and the occupied gives the film a pulse as often, the focus is more on building a haunting ambiance over character development or exposé. Szabò’s stone-faced performance masks a disappointment in humanity and, at the same time, a guilt for being complicit in horrific acts of brutality.
Natural Light is a harrowing, immersive experience that takes the adage “War is Hell” to a new, bleak extreme.
Natural Light (Természetes fény) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Natural Light (Természetes fény) here: