Hungarian director Judit Elek, who has often come up with sensitive work in the past, is in fine form with “Awakening,” a touching, beautifully acted exploration of the world of an intelligent, lonely 13-year-old Jewish girl during the Stalinist period of the early 1950s. Festival exposure should help position this modestly affecting pic for select offshore commercial and TV slots.
Much of the pleasure to be derived from the film comes from the lovely performance of newcomer Fruzsina Eszes, a charmer through whose wide eyes the story is told.
It’s 1952, and Kati is pulled out of class to be told abruptly that her beloved mother has died. Her father works in another city, and Kati can’t go to live with him, so she spends a short time with an unsympathetic uncle before eventually returning to live in her old apartment, which is shared by another family; if the flat is vacant too long, she knows it will be taken over to help alleviate an acute housing shortage.
Lonely Kati’s only comfort is to conjure up images of her mother (Judit Hernadi), whom she imagines talking to her, counseling her and benignly watching over her. But Kati needs love in the real world too; she gets into trouble at school for hosting a birthday party where liquor is consumed and, later, when her diary, in which she has expressed her erotic thoughts, is discovered by her teacher.
Eventually, she experiences love when she invites a bookseller to share the apartment, even though she’s aware he’s involved with another woman. Her first sexual experience is, however, disappointing.
Elek explores Kati’s world with tender affection, and Eszes responds with a glowing performance. The supporting cast is effective, too, especially Hernadi as the watchful mother and Andras Balint as the unfeeling uncle. Flashbacks showing Kati and her mother during the war years slow things up a little but are attractively shot. Production and costume design are on the button.