In Agnes Kocsis’ sophomore feature “Adrienn Pal,” an obese nurse’s search for a long-lost friend from primary school is, well, long and, if not exactly lost, at least pretty vague about where it wants to go. The dreary retro-chic visuals and offbeat humor of the Magyar helmer’s debut film, “Fresh Air,” are again present here, though because of a weak screenplay, the film struggles to sustain interest for its supersized two-hour-plus running time. “Adrienn” will pal around with some fests that showcased “Air,” though the item will remain fresh for a much shorter time than its predecessor.
Kocsis and co-scripter Andrea Roberti (who was credited as a co-director on “Fresh Air,” though not here) have devised what must have looked like an interesting protag on paper: Piroska (Eva Gabor), a Budapest terminal-ward care worker whose job consists mainly of carting off the expired elderly to the hospital morgue downstairs.
Piroska’s a heavy-set woman, and her balding hubby, Kallman (Istvan Znamenak), who works as an animal inseminator, and geeks out when building his gigantic diorama while listening to opera full-blast, insists she work out and lay off the cream-filled pastries. But his requests fall on deaf ears: Piroska seems to go on autopilot, and her marriage to Kallman has become as lifeless as her patients.
Setup is droll and effective, and features the helmer’s trademark observation of the absurdity of life’s little details, parceled out in short scenes with little dialogue, with clever use of stylized production design and diegetic music.
Around the 25-minute mark, the title character makes an appearance as a new patient on the ward, which shakes Piroska out of her lethargy; her best friend in primary school was also called Adrienn Pal. The nurse sets out on a picaresque journey to nowhere, slogging from interview to interview to question old acquaintances about the whereabouts of her former childhood friend. More conversation-heavy scenes reveal little about either the other Adrienn Pal or Piroska, suggesting only in a piecemeal manner that not everyone remembers past events in quite the same way.
Helmers with similar sensibilities to Kocsis’, including Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismaki, make films that are prime examples of the Shakespeare maxim “brevity is the soul of wit.” But with a full 110 minutes still to go when the two Pals are introduced, and so little in terms of character development, it’s practically impossible to buy into the premise emotionally, Kocsis’ film soon feels long to the point of self-indulgence. The tiny crumb of character transformation at the film’s end is handled in such an offhanded manner it will pass many auds by, and the film’s view on the protag’s obesity is also weakly signaled, though Gabor has a screen presence that makes Piroska lovable despite her faults.
Lensing, sound and production design are topnotch, with a control-room full of screens that show the electrocardiographic data of each patient especially impressive.
Local auds might be disturbed by the film’s surface similarities to Attila Gigor’s 2008 title “The Investigator,” which was set in a similar universe.