Modest drama “One Day” shows 36 hours in a disintegrating marriage from the point of view of the wife — a middle-class mother of three — who is already maximally stressed by the petty problems of her daily routine. It’s a confidently and naturalistically helmed feature debut by Zsófia Szilágyi (a former student of and assistant to Academy Award nominee Ildiko Enyedi) delivered in a precisely detailed, unhurried, hyper-real way. The film nabbed the Fipresci award from the international film critics for best first or second feature at the Cannes Film Festival. The prize should raise the profile of this intense, intimate work among festival programmers and European buyers, and marks the director as a talent to watch.
The central character, thirtysomething Anna (Zsófia Szamosi) is always forced into short-term problem-solving mode, and is so constantly on the go that she never has time to think about the big picture, let alone consider a proposed vacation or even arrange to have the kitchen faucet fixed. For her, it’s no problem to have a bucket catch the drips; a plumber would be a strain on the family’s already overstretched finances.
In between transporting her noisy, hyperactive children — Simon (Ambrus Barcza), Sari (Zorka Varga-Blasko) and baby Marko (Mark Gardos) — to school, as well as extra-curricular activities and dealing with grandma (Éva Vándor), Anna teaches Italian part-time to adults. Her relationship with her attorney husband, Szabolcs (installation artist Leo Furedi), has deteriorated into the briskly businesslike: there’s tag-team parenting, and then after the noisy brood is bathed and in bed, a discussion of household expenses.
Of course, Anna’s not happy with this situation, and she’s especially upset that her hubby may be having an affair with her seductive, self-centered friend Gabi (Annamária Lang). The scene in which the brazen Gabi comes up to the couple’s chaotic apartment to collect Anna for a drink, epitomizes the film’s expressive camerawork and strong acting. As Anna seethes with anger in the kitchen, the abashed Szabolcs is framed between the two women, unable to get his kids under control. Meanwhile, from the doorway. Gabi sends a half-sympathetic, half-dismissive smile to her slipper-clad paramour.
The next day, as Anna continues to stew over Szabolcs’ apparent infidelity, circumstances conspire to send her over the edge. The concluding scene devised by Szilágyi and her co-screenwriter Réka Mán-Várhegyi may come as a disappointment to some viewers, but everyone should be able to empathize with the feelings that inspired it.
“One Day” is one of the first features supported by the Incubator Program of the National Hungarian Film Fund (launched in 2015 to assist new talent) to premiere at a prestigious international film festival. Szilágyi, who previously directed several shorts, both fiction and documentary, took risks in choosing subject matter that some may find banal — as well as having three youngsters acting rambunctious on set — but her approach pays off, delivering emotion, humor and drama.
Szamosi, a theater actress perhaps best-known as the insensitive teacher in Kristóf Deák’s Oscar-winning live-action short “Sing,” makes palpable the costs and rewards of motherhood. A standout in the strong tech package is the cacophonous sound design that could make wannabe parents reconsider their plans for offspring.