The title is ironic; there’s little pleasure to be found in this grim but striking slice of life from youthful (26) Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo. But, despite an irritating over-reliance on distracting, Dogma-style hand-held camerawork, pic shows considerable promise and showcases fine performancess from its two lead actresses. Fests will bite, although commercial possibilities outside Central Europe are marginal. Quality TV networks not averse to considerable amounts of nudity also could be interested.
Peter (Tamas Polgar), just out of prison, goes to stay with his sister, Maria (Kata Weber), a beautiful young woman neglected by her lover. The siblings enjoy an intimate relationship, even at times bathing together.
Maria works in a laundry and is preoccupied with the problems of her best friend, Maja (Orsolya Toth). Maja’s married lover, a shady type who runs a ring of car thieves (in which Peter will become involved), has made her pregnant. She gives birth, without medical attention, on the laundry floor. Maria agrees to take care of the baby and to pretend she’s the mother. In this way, she hopes to blackmail her lover into a more permanent relationship. Peter, having witnessed the birth, is the only one, apart from the two young women, who knows the truth.
Peter is attracted to Maja, but she’s still recovering from giving birth and is unable to escape her possessive lover, who is fiercely jealous. Eventually, Maja decides she wants to assume responsibility for her baby, but Maria is unwilling to let the child go. Forced to choose between the sensibilities of his sister and those of the distraught Maja, Peter makes a decision that has tragic repercussions.
The sexual hangups of these unhappy people are boldly depicted. The barely concealed incestuous feelings that simmer just beneath the surface between Peter and Maria create additional tension. Though Maria clearly would like to settle down with her mostly absent lover, she’s furious when she discovers her brother has been attempting (unsuccessfully) to make out with Maja. And Peter, unable to consummate his increasing passion, becomes more angry and aggressive until he explodes in the climactic scene which is powerfully acted but spoiled by intrusive camerawork.
Unfortunately, Mundruczo ends the film unsatisfactorily, concluding with scenes that are unconvincing and cliched (with a nod to the end of Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows”).
Otherwise, “Pleasant Days” impresses with its frank realism, upfront sexuality and grim humor. Tamas Polgar provides a rather conventional interpretation of the quintessential angry young man, but the two women are excellent — Kata Weber as the sister whose emotional desperation and longing for love are eventually her undoing, and Orsolya Toth as the petite, pretty, generally resilient girl who has made too many mistakes already in her short life.
There’s a good use of soundtrack songs, and technical side is acceptable. Credits acknowledge the assistance given by some major names of Hungarian cinema, among them Miklos Jancso, Gyula Gazdag and Ferenc Grunwalsky.