Dir: Agnes Kocsis. Hung. 2006. 109mins.
Critics and arthouseaudiences should welcome Fresh Air, adeliberately slow and sombre study from first-time Hungarian director Agnes Kocsis. It will strike many as more than a littlereminiscent of Keren Yedaya'sOr, which won the Camera d'Or at Cannes in 2004 when it played in Un Certain Regard- the same section Fresh Air has beenselected for later this month.
Kocsis' drama traces the desolate life of a mother and herteen daughter in downtown Budapest. Deterministic and uncompromising, it is botha despairing portrait of a single woman's lot and a grim coming-of-age story thathas no silver lining.
While strictly forfestivals, arthouses and thematic events, it will neverthelessbe taken up by sympathetic audiences before enjoying a limited but certaincommercial life. It premiered at Hungarian Film Week.
Viola (Nyako), a handsome woman who works as a washroom attendant in an underground station,shares a small flat in a back street with her daughter Angela (Hegyi).
Mum is neat and meticulous, scouringthe lonely hearts columns for a partner and some kind of human affection - whicheven if was offered she would not have the courage to reciprocate.
Rather she seems to accepther lot, both at home and at work, as some unbearable divine punishment thatcannot be averted. She is shamed and obsessed with the lavatory odours,constantly spraying deodorants around her and scrubbing her body raw every timeshe returns home, trying to exorcise something which is evidently much more thanskin deep.
Meanwhile Angela, enrolled ina vocational high school and preparing to become a seamstress, hates the ideaof her mother cleaning toilets.
The two practically nevertalk. Angela demonstratively rushes to open doors and windows whenever Viola comeshome, airing not only her mother's smell but also her presence as well. Daughteralso keeps the door to her bedroom locked; the only thing she shares with hermother is their fascination with La Piovra, anItalian TV crime series, starring Michele Placido,who both seem to fancy.
Angela wants to become afashion designer but lacks the courage to enrol in a competition; experiences afirst, tentative romance; and goes through the typical adolescent rebellionagainst adults in general and her mother in particular.
She wants out: from herlife, her home and the people she knows. She wants a breath of air - but beforethe end she has to confront the fact that she is very much her mother'sdaughter and that there is no way out.
Despite her youth, Agnes Kocsis makes a strong, mature and spirited debut, directingwith admirable economy, making every camera move count and carefully framingevery shot. The simple and functional sets and design are carefully presented, asare the costumes, painstakingly designed to provide a colour palette for thetwo characters: red for Angela, green for Viola and pink for Viola's friendMarina (Turoczi).
Other touches like theliving room wallpaper - which displays a gorgeous image of a green forest -help emphasise the stuffy urban atmosphere, far removed from anything suggestedby the film's title.
Pacing is tightly controlled,for there is no excitement in the existence presented, as Kocsisguides Izabela Hegyi andJulia Nyako through remarkably effective performancesthat always remain true.
The look of sheer panic anddespair that sneaks onto Nyako face every once in awhile, coupled with Hegyi's defeated, unsmilingexpression throughout, push this metaphor, as intentionally stylised as it is, intosomething approaching real life.
Academy Of Drama And Film, Budapest