(Hungarian and Slovak dialogue)
Some good performances and interesting material are dissipated by leisurely editing in “Jadviga’s Pillow.” Based on Hungary’s top-selling novel of 1999, story centers on a fractured marriage in the nation’s Slovak community during the late teens and early ’20s of the last century. With half an hour hewn from the running time, this could go on to a modest career in festival and specialized tube outlets.
Helmer Krisztina Deak, whose past work has shown a tendency toward melodrama, here treats the novelettish yarn of an unhappy wife and weak husband in a cool, restrained way, with an impressive opening reel in which young hothead Ondris (Viktor Bodo) is married in colorful style to Jadviga (Ildiko Toth). She’s his father’s foster daughter, and a woman of some mystery, recently returned from studying in Germany.
The wedding night — limned with a painstaking detail that gives both actors a chance to reveal a more intimate side to their characters — reveals Jadviga as a young woman with a bruised sexual history and in need of slow nurturing, which doesn’t come naturally to the impetuous Ondris.
Outside pressures soon take their toll on the marriage: the dying embers of WWI, secessional shenanigans by the Slovaks, the reappearance of Jadviga’s former lover Franci (Roman Luknar) and a deal Ondris cuts with the Hungarian authorities that heightens the fault lines in his character.
Bodo cuts a handsome and charismatic figure as the boyish Ondris in the early going but lacks the acting range to make him a sympathetic protagonist as his loser side takes over. Toth, by comparison, is consistently good as his stronger wife, torn between old desires and fresh hopes and unable to find in Ondris the strong but gentle husband she needs.
But pic’s good qualities, including Gyorgy Selmeczi’s gently coaxing score, are spread way too thin over the two-hour-plus running time, especially for a drama that’s mostly intimate and small-scale. Period detail is physically well etched.