An essay on memory
by Vitor Pinto
- A hunt through the maze of idealised memories in the second feature by a highly promising Hungarian director. A film unveiled at the Cannes Festival 2010
Four years ago, Fresh Air [+see also:
film profile] made Agnès Kocsis one of the most promising directors of the new generation of Hungarian Cinema. The accurate and analytical perspective that characterised her debut film can be found again in her latest directorial feature, Pál Adrienn [+see also:
interview: Agnes Kocsis, director of P…
film profile], presented in the Un Certain Regard section at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.
Pál Adrienn is a story about the idealisation of the past, one of those idealisations that usually emerge in difficult times when one is faced with a suffocating reality from which there seems no escape. In the case of Piroska, this idealisation crystallises into one person, Adrienn Pál, her best friend at primary school, with whom she lost touch over 20 years ago.
Far from the days when she used to share all her secrets and toys with Adrieen, Piroska is now an obese thirty-something who works as a nurse in the palliative care ward of a hospital. Incapable of calling the patients’ relatives every time somebody dies, one day Piroska comes across the name of a recently deceased woman, Adrienn Pál. It’s not her friend, though.
So what has become of the Adrienn Pál of her childhood? Possessed by a sudden nostalgia, Piroska decides to investigate. Thus, after a long contemplative introduction to the nurse’s depressing life, the story of that search finally begins.
Co-scripted by Andrea Roberti and the director, the film includes a series of visits to old neighbours, school friends and teachers, whilst pointing up contradictory clues and viewpoints that conflict with Piroska’s memories. Gradually, the ghost of Adrienn Pál begins to take on an uncertain form: she was an ill child (or not…), she behaved well (or not…), she was Piroska’s best friend (or not…); she really existed (or not…).
The ambiguities surrounding this ghost-character could easily have turned this story into a mystery film, but rather than solving the dilemma, Kocsis is more interested in filming the whole process in great detail and as a counterpoint to the protagonist. Each new meeting brings Piroska face to face with realities different from her own: friends who have become rich, marriages happier than her own, premises that seem to point to the idealisation of a person who probably only existed in such a perfect way in her own memory as an adult-child disillusioned with life. Actress Eva Gabor does more than just play this woman in search of childhood, she inhabits her, embodies her and takes possession of her nostalgia and misery.
The clearly structured screenplay and subtle psychological portrait of the protagonist is accompanied by a contemplative direction and slow editing pace. The film also introduces very different sound and musical elements like operatic arias, Karaoke songs and the heartbeat of the hospital patients which add an ironic, falsely tragic or purely distressing tone to this essay on the relativism of memory.
(Translated from French)