Djata is a young boy living a rural existence in a harsh totalitarian society. Despite this he is happy with his doting parents until his life is brutally changed when his father is taken away – apparently he is needed for his expertise, in reality he is taken to a gulag for political dissidence.
The film starts with an amazing credit sequence which is a mini animated story in and of itself, telling the history of the world in which we find ourselves. No more is offered us, which is fine and provides a constant questioning as you try to piece together the clues given you in the film.
We follow Djata as he lurches from encounter to encounter; we observe his relationship with his loving but distracted mother; his overbearing grandparents, his friends; his school; the local bullies and more. This does highlight the films biggest weakness, which comes down to the episodic nature of the source material, the book by Gyorgy Dragoman. There are no narrative threads that hold his encounters together; No consequences from one event to the next and that can be somewhat frustrating. However Djata’s desire to see his father again is a potent glue that motivates and holds the film together.
This film lies squarely in Hunger Games territory, a near future full of indoctrination and oppression. That, however, is where the similarity ends. This is the hunger games less populist younger cousin. There are no grand sweeping gestures of defiance that rally all to a cause and that to my mind is its strength. This is the story of every day life under a regime. Having visited the authors native Romania recently and getting a glimpse of the fading but ever present consequences of living under communism, Dragoman’s influences are clear.
The acting is great for the most part and the casting pretty much perfect. Djata’s mother played by Agyness Deyn is stunning in her damaged and desperate defiance. The grandparents played by Jonathan Pryce and Fiona Shaw are amazing but young Lorenzo Allchurch as Djata steals the show. His slow burning anger and subtlety are incredible to watch.
Husband and wife writing and directing team Alex Helfrecht and Jorg Tittel have allowed the actors space to breath, making this a film driven wonderfully by character rather than plot. There were a few moments where character actions didn’t seem to make sense but I got the feeling that were the creators allowed a directors cut to expand those moments then all but one of those moments would be fine.
This is not a film for those looking for stirring moments of heroic uprising but if your looking for a dystopian movie with good cinematography, great characterisation, stunning acting, a telling score and a story that will stay with you then this is a fantastic offering.
GS Rating: 4/5
GS Reviewer: Monts