By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
When the liveliest character in a movie is the heroine’s pet turtle, you know you’re in for some seriously stately filmmaking, and “Delta” does not disappoint. Set in a village on the edge of the Hungarian Danube, this visually demonstrative, emotionally constipated drama observes the fallout when a towheaded prodigal son (Felix Lajko) and his frail younger sister (Orsolya Toth) decide to become better acquainted.
Under the frosty gazes of Mom (Lili Monori) and her fireplug boyfriend (Sandor Gaspar), the brother and sister, barely exchanging a word, begin construction on a house along the river. Their developing intimacy, however, rouses the Cro-Magnon villagers from their pig-slaughtering and vodka-inhaling, and as the film crawls toward the doom heralded by the very first frame — a flaring sunset — the siblings’ Edenic existence becomes ever more fragile.
Somewhat indebted to Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven,” the Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo displays a near-pathological moroseness and a fierce devotion to symbolism. (He: “Do you want me to make a fire?” She: “No, it’s colder when it dies out.”)
Yet his thoughtful compositions and precisely calibrated colors —occasionally ripe but never gaudy — are intensely seductive, as is a soundtrack celebrating some of nature’s harshest sounds: screeching gulls, croaking bullfrogs and the sandpaper rasp of the town drunk.
Unfolding like a medieval horror movie, “Delta” is sometimes laughable but often admirable. Here, the river flows like steel-blue oil, and a bobbing funeral procession could be crossing the Styx itself.
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Directed by Kornel Mundruczo; written by Yvette Biro; director of photography, Matyas Erdely; music by Felix Lajko; produced by Philippe Bober; released by Facets Multimedia. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. In Hungarian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Felix Lajko (Mihail), Orsolya Toth (Fauna), Lili Monori (Mother) and Sandor Gaspar (Mother’s Lover).