Pal Adrienn -- Film Review



CANNES -- This is the kind of film, despite its many qualities, that one has trouble envisioning people actually buying tickets to see. "Pal Adrienn" is well-acted, acutely observed, and dramatically subtle (perhaps to a fault), but it's so relentlessly downbeat that you want to recommend to Agnes Kocsis, its screenwriter-director, that she hold off on that new screenplay she's been contemplating and begin therapy right away.

Given this state of affairs, commercial prospects for this overlong Hungarian production seem dim, but despite the depressed state it may induce in its sparse viewers, it's a worthy film nonetheless. It might, as a good example of the New Eastern European Cinema, even have a happy if stunted life on the festival circuit.

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Piroska (Gabor) is an extremely overweight woman who seeks solace for various existential disappointments as well as her unpalatable appearance by eating non-stop. Her husband Kalman is not very nice to her, and on top of that, she works the night shift as a nurse in a hospital ward for the terminally ill. As such, she is constantly faced with the prospect of death, which leads to further unhappiness, which leads to further eating.

One day Piroska discovers that a patient who's been admitted has, coincidentally, the same name as an old schoolmate of hers, Adrienn Pal. Clutching at anything that might give her life some meaning, she begins a hapless crusade to track down her former best friend, though she has completely lost track of her. As she pursues her impossible quest, she reconnects with many of her former classmates, all of whom have very different memories of Adrienn from those that Piroska cherishes.

Kocsis' camera relentlessly follows Piroska in her daily rituals at home and at work, and the effect is (one hopes, purposefully) quite deadening. A element of black humor is also lightly in evidence, as when her husband would rather play with his model train than communicate with her or when he checks the odometer on her exercise bike every day to see if she's stuck to her regimen. Even the banging of the clunky wooden shoes she wears in the hospital is used by second-time director Kocsis to suggest the harsh, empty repetitiveness of her life.

Every aspect of the hospital is relentlessly alienating, from its faded lime green walls to the rock music that blasts on the giant elevator that leads to the morgue, where Piroska often finds herself with a new client. Perhaps the high point of the film's dark humor comes when her husband leaves her a five-part voicemail on her answering machine announcing that he is leaving her and hasn't loved her for years. She responds by lying down on the sofa, expressionless as always, to hear him out.

Happily for those who do buy tickets to see this film, it ends on the faintest of hopeful notes. Piroska ends up taking loving care of the dying mother of a man she's met while searching for Adrienn (appropriately, the woman is unconscious and thus unresponsive) and one day even decides not to bring any of those cream-filled pastries with her to work.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Un Certain Regard
Production: KMH FILM
Cast: Eva Gabor, Istvan Znamenak, Akos Horvath, Lia Pokorny, Izabella Hegyi
Director: Agnes Kocsis
Screenwriter: Agnes Kocsis, Andrea Roberti
Director of photography: Adam Fillenz
Production designer: Alexandra Maringer, Adrien Asztalos
Editor: Tamas Kollanyi
Sales: Shellac
No rating, 136 minutes