“Foetus” miscarries on most fronts. Despite a radiant central perf by Adel Kovats as a young, pregnant wife whose unwanted baby will be adopted by a childless businesswoman, Hungarian helmer Marta Meszaros’ latest pic stalls due to an unconvincing script and weak supporting turns. Competing at the Berlin fest, pic drew a polite reception from locals at the opening night of the 25th Hungarian Film Week in Budapest.
Pic partly looks back to subjects covered by Meszaros during her golden period of the 1970s, notably the great motherhood/female bonding trilogy of “Adoption,””Nine Months” and “The Two of Them.” But with its glossy visuals and somewhat soft script, “Foetus” often more closely resembles B-league Meszaros like the 1982 “Anna” (aka “Mother and Daughter”).
Protagonist here is Anna (Kovats), a young mother of two who suddenly discovers she’s six weeks pregnant. Financially strapped already, it doesn’t take Anna long to accept an offer from Terez (Russian actress Aliona Antonova), hard-nosed boss of the store in which she works –$ 50,000 if she’ll go into seclusion, have the child and sign it over to Terez at birth.
Though there’s enough material so far for a whole film, the script pushes on. Using frequent child-filled dream sequences and shots of a fetus suspended within a womb, Meszaros is mainly interested in Anna’s emotional to-ing and fro-ing during confinement and her symbiotic relationship with Terez.
That’s where the pic never really gets its wheels off the ground: Despite lots of heart-to-hearts, and even a scene in which the two women share a tub, there’s a fatal lack of screen chemistry between Kovats and Antonova, largely thanks to stiff playing by the latter (voiced by Hungarian thesp AgiSzirtes) and dialogue that reduces potentially dramatic material to the level of a glossy soap.
Conflict, much to the fore in Meszaros’ earlier, more gritty pix, is lacking. Anna’s husband is quickly sidelined, easily duped by Terez’s elaborate scheme to make him believe his wife is in the U.S. Terez’s role is further trivialized by the cliched character of her bonehead husband, histrionically played by Polish actor Jan Nowicki (voiced by Gabor Revicky).
Left to her own resources, Kovats invests the film with a kind of dreamy grace that fits the bright, immaculate visuals — by Meszaros’ lenser son, Nyika Jancso — and Michal Lorenc’s attractive, featherlight score. But it’s essentially a fine performance on an empty stage, with most of the real drama piled up in the wings.
Other perfs are OK, with longtime Meszaros regular Zsuzsa Czinkoczi (who started as a brat in the 1978 “Just Like at Home” and matured impressively in the recent “Diary” trilogy) in a smallish, intriguing role as a maid.