A Film a Week - Too Close

 previously published on Cineuropa

The topic of the sexual abuse of children within the confines of the family or a household is always a sensitive one, and there is probably no right way to deal with it using the form of documentary cinema. The victims are usually unwilling to open up and talk about it, as they risk further victimisation and judgement from their own milieu. This makes Botond Püsök’s Too Close an extremely risky, brave, delicate and ultimately potent portrait of the aforementioned situation. Fresh off its premiere in the documentary competition of the Sarajevo Film Festival, it should secure further bookings at documentary film festivals.

The protagonist is Andrea, a theatre actress who lives in a Hungarian-speaking village somewhere in Transylvania, Romania. Her daughter Pirkó was systematically sexually abused by Andrea’s then partner Pika, and the whole story emerged while Andrea was pregnant with Pika’s son Bogyó. Confronted by Pirkó and Andrea, Pika confessed everything and was sentenced to several years in prison. However, his early release for “good behaviour” threatens to disrupt the fragile balance that Andrea and Pirkó have managed to achieve through therapy.

The reason for the panic within the home is not just Pika, but also the entire village, the locals’ behaviour towards the broken family, and their generally positive attitude towards and support for Pika. In their minds, the whole story is a lie, and in their conversations, Andrea is referred to as “The Actress”, meaning that she lies for a living, while Pika is a “salt of the earth” type, the son of the local Reformed Church priest, and the genius engineer who brought pavements and gas to the village. How could such a “good man” be a paedophile behind closed doors?

Knowing that she cannot count on the help of the local community, in which she has been assigned the status of a stranger who could never be accepted, and that any help from the official system would be flawed, insufficient and tardy, Andrea’s only hope is to sell her house and move somewhere else with the children – somewhere where all three of them could have a fresh start. In the meantime, the atmosphere in the village will become so toxic that the family will feel imprisoned in their own house and the yard around it.

The observational style with zero commentary by the filmmaker is not just a fitting and tasteful choice, but is also a testament to Andrea’s and her children’s courage in letting Püsök and his skeleton crew (the filmmaker also did the shooting himself) deep into their lives. On camera, all three of them appear completely sincere and natural, like people who have nothing to hide, regardless of Andrea’s profession, which the villagers like to disparage. Unlike the family, the locals are represented only in the form of a “gossiping chorus”, spreading their opinions and insults via voice-over narrations that are minimally processed by Támas Bonács’ sound design. This sound design and the music composed by Andor Sperling and, to a lesser extent, David Stephen Grant are used to infuse the documentary with a degree of tension that verges on the level of a thriller, and this is also thanks to the tight editing by Brigitta Bacskai, who also served as the film’s co-scriptwriter.

In the end, Too Close is equally effective as a testimony of the human nastiness that flourishes in small, enclosed communities, as a brave documentary that takes no prisoners and as a tense, pounding thriller. Its versatility makes it quite exceptional.

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