Review: Six Weeks
by Elena Lazic
- Noémi Veronika Szakonyi’s feature-length fiction debut is a nuanced and judgement-free portrait of a young woman putting her child up for adoption
Is there such a thing as a right decision when it comes to having children or not? How many obstacles and discomforts are too many? When the future is always more or less uncertain, is there ever a right time to start a family? And is there such a thing as a perfect mother? Six Weeks [+see also:
interview: Noemi Veronika Szakonyi
film profile], the first feature-length fiction film by Hungarian director Noémi Veronika Szakonyi, never explicitly spells out these questions. But these are the tense waters that its often silent protagonist must navigate when she gives birth to an unwanted child and puts her up for adoption: by law, in Hungary, the biological mother has six weeks from the day of the birth to change her mind and get her child back, if she so wishes.
Premiering in the Feature Competition at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival, Six Weeks avoids easy didacticism in favour of an aesthetic in tune with the emotions and thoughts of a young girl who is both mature for her age in terms of the number of responsibilities she carries around daily, and still youthful in her passion and stubbornness. Repeatedly let down by her own single mother, Zsófi (Katalin Román) finds herself taking care of household duties and of her little sister Mesi (Lana Szczaurski) more than a girl her age really should. She has the no-bullshit sensibility of an athlete who knows what it takes to win, and is indeed dedicated to her after-school table-tennis practice, determined to make it to the European Cup and then to the Olympics. Highly ambitious, she does not suffer fools gladly, and the film begins with her firmly sticking to her decision not to raise a child in conditions she believes to be less than optimal. We soon learn that the pregnancy was an accident, the father a loser whom Zsófi never cared about, and that the whole affair is, for the young woman, mostly an annoying delay to her plans.
It’s a refreshingly modern and unsentimental perspective that puts the mother’s rights first, and one that is immediately threatened from all sides. The most vocal opponent of Zsófi’s decision is her own mother, who coos at the unborn child inside her daughter’s belly in the opening scenes and later bursts into tears whenever she is reminded of the impending adoption. But if anything, this emotional reaction from a parent who has continually disappointed her only strengthens Zsófi’s resolve not to follow in those footsteps – which soon reveals a more painful irony: it is very possible that Zsófi, forced to take care of herself from a young age, would in fact make a wonderful mother. It is this realisation, alongside the painful physical changes of a postpartum body designed to feed a child and not, crucially, to withstand intense table-tennis training, that puts a strain on Zsófi’s resolve.
Following, as it does, a young woman in limbo and with no one to help or guide her in making a decision that could drastically change the course of her life, Six Weeks is an often stressful and gruelling film, and Zoltán Dévényi’s sun-drenched cinematography helps considerably soften the experience. Full of pastel colours and rays of sunshine, the aesthetic also puts a subtle emphasis on Zsófi’s youth, even as she faces grown-up problems, and allows Román to emerge as a solid young talent who can hold her own in a difficult role. The film otherwise takes a relatively standard, realist formal approach in sync with a storyline that, keen to avoid being obvious or overdetermined in any way, is ultimately without many surprises. This steadfast dedication to nuance and grey areas occasionally makes the film seem one-note, which in turn makes it difficult for it to maintain our interest in what unfolds, but it ultimately proves to be the movie’s blessing: when Zsófi makes her final decision, her reasons cannot be reduced to mere logistical considerations, nor to the presence or absence of maternal feelings; her choice is hers and hers alone, and she does not need to justify herself to anybody.
Six Weeks was produced by Hungary’s Sparks.
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