Magyar helmer-writer Lili Horvath registers as a talent to watch with “The Wednesday Child,” a strongly acted tale of a rebellious teen mother determined to regain custody of her young son. At its heart, the film is a coming-of-age story, and the protagonist’s struggle to discard bad habits and bad relationships is not an easy one. The gritty, naturalistic drama nabbed the Karlovy Vary fest’s East of the West prize and the Fedeora critics’ nod, which, in addition to critical support, should spur further fest interest and possible European tube play.
Pretty, tough-talking, 19-year-old Maja (a striking debut by Kinga Vecsei) lives with her petty-criminal boyfriend, Krisz (Zsolt Antal), in a rundown housing project on the outskirts of Budapest. Smart but self-destructive, Maja’s no model citizen; she supplements her hardscrabble life with some fare dodging here and a little theft there. Maja and Krisz grew up in an orphanage together and have a mute 4-year-old son who still lives there. While Krisz feels no attachment to the boy, Maja wants to raise him herself, although she lacks a plan to achieve this goal. The orphanage director (Eniko Borcsok) clearly sympathizes with her desire, but is waiting for Maja to display the necessary good judgment as well as the financial means.
When Maja’s neighbor Bobe (Annamaria Nemeth) tells her about a micro-credit scheme for entrepreneurs being run out of the local community center, Maja applies. Although wary social worker Janos (Szabolcs Thuroczy, nuanced and poignant in an atypical role) recognizes that Maja’s cavalier attitude towards rules and regulations will create trouble, she is eventually accepted with a plan to open a laundry. The fact that the entrepreneurial scheme involves a group of four — and if one member fails to play by rules, the others will automatically lose their stake — injects another layer of narrative tension. Some of the film’s most nicely observed moments show the other group members pressuring Maja to be more responsible, and pitching in to help when her planned opening is thrown off schedule by the jealous Krisz.
As one would expect from a film called “The Wednesday Child,” the eponymous protagonist is full of woe, but she is also fairly bursting with determination. Indeed, the character of Maja (who was also featured in Horvath’s 34-minute short, “Sunstroke”) is a complex one, and Vecsei perfectly displays her many aspects: hardened yet tender, defensive and defiant, seductive and resourceful.
Horvath, whose previous credits include casting director on compatriot helmer Kornel Mundruczo’s “White God,” astutely mixes actors and non-pros here, adding to the credibility of the film’s underprivileged milieu. Per interviews, she and d.p. Robart Maly prepared a shot list for every single scene and determined that the closeups should always have special signiﬁcance, and that the aesthetics could never get in the way of the story. The result is limber lensing that captures Maja’s energy and determination, and smartly incorporates the cell-phone and computer visuals that play key plot points.
The craft package features fine support from longtime Horvath colleagues such as editor Daniel Szabo, art director Sandra Sztevanovity and sound designer Rudolf Varhegyi. The well-used score by Gabor Presser manages to be plaintive and hopeful.