Dir: Krisztina Deak. Hungary. 1999. 130 mins.
Prod co: Mafilm. Prod: Gyorgy Marosi. Scr: Pal Zavada, Krisztina Deak from Zavada's novel. DoP: Gabor Balogh. Ed: Zsuzsa Csakany. Prod des: Joszef Romvari, Janos Szabolcs. Mus: Gyorgy Selmeczi. Main cast: Ildiko Toth, Viktor Bodo, Roman Luknar, Mari Csomos, Eszter Onodi, Bela Fesztbaum, Djoko Rosic, Marian Labuda.
Krisztina Deak's tragic love story Jadviga's Pillow, set at the beginning of the twentieth century, bears some of the hallmarks of good Hungarian cinema, including lush imagery and photogenic actors. But despite being based on a critically acclaimed and successful novel, the film fails to produce either characters or events that can generate more than a passing interest.
The story centres on Jadviga, a young woman who is getting married to a country boy. He is head over heels in love with her, but she obviously has her reservations, as indicated by the less than blissful wedding night that she grants him. We soon learn that a slick dandy, whose interest in her is purely carnal, has swept her off her feet. The husband eventually finds out about the affair, but is willing to let it continue so long as she stays with him, which she does, whenever she hasn't been summoned to her lover's bed. The backdrop to these events include political unrest, frictions between Hungarian and Slovak nationalists and the First World War, none of which has much impact on the main story.
While always pleasing to look at, Deak's film seems unable to make up its mind what it really wishes to focus on. If it's a story about almighty love, strong enough to make any sacrifice, then none of the three actors are compelling enough for the job. If it's a tragedy about a world collapsing for lack of basic values and moral fibre, then Deak doesn't drive her point home with enough force. Then there are the images themselves, handsome to be sure, but with a running time of more than two hours, they run a distinct risk of overstaying their welcome.