It was on the mud-sodden fields of the Great War that Tomás declared dead, killed by the blast from a shell, his body tossed in a pit along with all the others where it was only by chance that a photographer saw him breathing and realised the assessment had been premature; the war over, he accompanies his rescuer who performs a sideshow act recounting the near-death experience of his protégé and claiming it as his own.
Tomás happy for his partner to take the lead, he works quietly in the adjoining tent as a post-mortem photographer, posing the recently deceased so family members can have a memento of their lost loved ones. There he meets young orphan Anna; her nearby village struck by the Spanish Flu, they have many dead whose portraits Tomás could record on his plates, but her other question is the one which is more significant, whether it is possible to photograph ghosts.
Largely filmed at the Outdoor Museum of Ethnography at Skanzen on the northern border of Hungary which replicates architectural styles from the eighteenth century onwards, firmly establishing time and place, the bitter winter of 1918 is captured by director Péter Bergendy in Post Mortem, the ground frozen so the dead cannot be buried and the piled bodies drawing restless spirits to the village, first glimpsed as shadows but increasingly malevolent as their numbers increase.
Starring Victor Klem as Tomás, accustomed to wrangling stiff bodies and powdering their faces to make them presentable for grieving widows and parents, taking on the role of a ghost hunter is unexpected but he adapts his approach and his equipment without complaint, aided with surprising bravado by Anna (Fruzina Hais), unafraid of death having been exposed to so much of it and experienced it herself, strangled during birth and revived by her now crippled aunt.
Tomás sanguine about his unconventional occupation despite his own traumatic encounter with death, his fears surface as he begins to hear noises in the night in the unnamed village which serves as a microcosm for Europe in the wake of the Great War, stoically trying to get on with life while coping with loss so overwhelming they struggle to express the weight of it, Tomás lodging with Marcsa (Judit Schell) who no longer teaches because so many of the children are dead.
The script by Piros Zánkay from Bergendy and Gábor Hellebrandt’s story focusing on the odd friendship between Tomás and Anna before they are prompted to adopt the investigative accoutrements of spiritualists of the age and the atmosphere of the grieving village, physically and emotionally frozen, as Post Mortem progresses the manifestations become more powerful with disturbing manipulations of the dead and the living, the reluctant medium trying to comprehend what must be done do to appease those suspended between life and death.
Post Mortem will be available on digital download from Monday 31st October