A terrific performance by young actress Patricia Kovacs makes the high-stakes gamble of "Down by Love" -- a light psychodrama almost entirely centered on one character in an apartment -- into an engrossing 90-odd minutes. Minor quibbles shouldn't prevent this fourth feature by d.p.-turned-director Tamas Sas from traveling offshore.
A terrific performance by young actress Patricia Kovacs makes the high-stakes gamble of “Down by Love” — a light psychodrama almost entirely centered on one character in an apartment — into an engrossing 90-odd minutes. Minor quibbles shouldn’t prevent this fourth feature by d.p.-turned-director Tamas Sas (“Espresso,” “Bad Guys”) from traveling offshore to fests and cable slots, where its accessibility and desire to try something different may help change the perception of contempo Hungarian cinema.
Sas has been a fresh voice for several years, starting with his debut pic, “Espresso,” based in a coffee bar. In “Down by Love,” Kovacs plays 24-year-old Eva Kerezkes, who’s lived alone for some time in an apartment left to her by her late parents. Adopted at a young age by friends of the family — well-known writer Tibor (Gabor Mate) and his wife, Klara (Rita Tallos) — she’s had a long-running sexual relationship with Tibor, first consummated when she was only 13.
Pic opens with her returning, happy, from a holiday in Venice. Her background is sketched during the opening reels through phone calls from friends, nightmares about her past and talking to herself as she prepares dinner for Tibor (unseen, or only blurrily shown, until the end). She keeps asking him if she’s spoken to his wife about leaving her and moving in full time.
As she putters around the apartment, opens the door to (unseen) callers and goes about her work (coloring animation cels), it’s clear Eva is living in her own self-absorbed world — a true obsessive, who may or may not have been raped by Tibor 11 years ago.
Through use of sudden blood-red fades and Elemer Ragalyi’s warm lensing of the apartment’s ochry, terracotta tones, pic generates an underlying sense of unease, vaguely recalling the early sections of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion.” A blood-stained towel which keeps cropping up adds to the low-key menace, which finallyescalates following a phone-call from Klara.
Film is weakened by some forced climaxes, and the bursts of generic thriller music seem out of place, but in general the slightly stylized approach works well if the viewer goes with it. Complementing Ragalyi’s constantly roving camera is a soundtrack of almost continuous music, as if from real sources (a neighboring accordion player, etc.).
However, it’s Kovacs’ perf that sells the whole conceit: a fourth-year student at Budapest’s Drama Academy, studying under Mate himself, she’s an endlessly fascinating study of shifting moods, her slightly offbeat looks lapped up by the camera. Remarkably, considering its thoroughly pro look, pic was shot in only 14 days for the paltry sum of $200,000, with some of the major participants deferring their fees and many others working free of charge.