Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Film Review: The Days of Desire

"The Days of Desire" *** (out of ****)

The 46th annual Chicago International Film Festival is coming to an end but there are still a few worthwhile films being shown. Today I attended a screening for the Hungarian film "The Days of Desire" (2010, A Vagyakozas Napjai).

At the beginning of Jozsef Pacskovszky's "The Days of Desire", I thought Pacskovszky must have been influence by Bela Tarr. And sure enough, the cinematographer, Sandor Kardos worked with Tarr on his film "Almanac of Fall" (1984, Oszi Almanach), one of Tarr's great films. And much like "Almanac of Fall", "The Days of Desire" is an intense family drama.

The film is shot in black and white, with a minimalist musical score. The camera creates an uneasiness and claustrophobic feel. Much like our hero, Anna (Orsolya Schefcsik, making her screen debut) an orphan mute. We are trapped and limited to our space.

At first meeting Anna she is on her way to a job interview. Angela (Catherine Wilkening) is a successful businesswoman looking for a housemaid. Anna comes with no references or previous work experience. But Angela decides to take a chance on the young girl.

Notice the cinematography in this sequence. Anna is usually placed in the forefront with Angela in the background. It makes us feel Anna is closed in. She is uncomfortable during the interview, especially when you consider she can't speak.

Angela usually brings home a different man every night, much to Anna's surprise. We are further surprised when we find out Angela is actually married to Zoltan (Zsolt Laszlo), an eye surgeon, whom has just been released from rehab for a drinking problem. We learn Angela hasn't even went to visit Zoltan when he was away. Both are suffering from the death of their teenage daughter, who died in a car accident.

Anna meets a young man, Miklos (Akos Orosz) who works in a supermarket. He has taken an instant liking to her, but, because of her silence, thinks Anna doesn't like him. Eventually the two become friendly.

It is at this moment Anna's personal life will have an affect on Zoltan and Angela. The two soon start to treat Anna as if she was their daughter. They invite Miklos over to dinner. They never correct people (including Miklos) who assume Anna is their daughter. But this soon has a negative effect. It makes the couple confront, once again, the death of their daughter.

"The Days of Desire" is a film about damaged people and damaged lives. It is about pain and suffering. There is much going on here. There is multiple layers to this film. These characters are masking their emotions to such a level, they no longer know what to feel.

But sadly, for as compelling as the film sounds, director Pacskovszky can't bring it all together. We never really come to know these characters. There is so much going on under the surface the film never addresses the complexities of their situation. We don't get the full back story of these people.

On some level that disappoints me. There is enough material here to make a deep, thought provoking, provocative film. But "The Days of Desire" keeps things just at the surface level. It doesn't dig deep enough. We don't see the full consequences of how damaged these characters will become. Is their any hope for them? Can they ever rebuild their lives?

Still I cannot deny the overall striking effect the film had on me. There are some powerful confrontations. The moment these characters reach their final destinations can be chilling. The cinematography does a wonderful job creating mood and atmosphere. And Schefcsik has a very natural presence to her. It is amazing this is her first film.

The material in this film could have been played for a mystery. Think Claude Chabrol. Buried family secrets. Concealed family desires. Themes of redemption. "The Days of Desire" could have used some of that. Slowly building tension. Bringing us in slowly. Trying to uncover who these people are.

But why obsess over what might have been? "The Days of Desire" is better than most of the contemporary Hungarian films I've seen lately. It is much better than "Delta" (2010), which I saw a few years back at the festival.

"The Days of Desire" is a brooding, atmospheric emotionally draining film. A compelling, intense family drama, which is darker than you may realize.