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Fresh air for effectively deadpan, slice-of-life dramedies
Although set out as another deadpan, slice-of-life/inter-generational-malaise comedy that often inspires inquiries into tired Freudian insights, "Fresh Air", the welcomely modest film from novice Hungarian director Agnes Kocsis, manages to make a nicely acute look at the contemporary mother-daughter relationship and it's glaringly distant nature without drowning in it Oedipal cliques. Shooting in an amiably, if predictably, wry sensibility, she manages to stress the more casual, common-place observations of everyday life without over-reaching for an offbeat, hyper-zealous whimsy.
Set in modern-day Budapest, without the sparkle of a Rick Steves-eye-view of tourism-centered Europe (where Budapest has become a recent hot commodity), it focuses on two women: Viola (Julia Nyako), a nearing-middle-age single mother whose considerable beauty has not seem to worked out in her favor: she works as a restroom attendant in a city subway, though she treats her supposedly lowly position with an odd sense of efficient integrity and pride. Her daughter, Angela (Izabella Hegyi), doesn't feel the same way, as she aspires for higher ambitions to be a fashion designer and escape the remote monotony of her seemingly minimal teenage life.
Although they live in close quarters, communication between viola and Angela has almost completely lapsed: viola is too wrapped up in her own marginal routine (her personal life is a tidy disaster), for which Angela feels both shame and a condescending, unspoken empathy. The only time they ever enjoy being together is silently watching an unnamed, beloved television serial, whose hero provides a momentary (and, at least to the audience, enigmatic) solace from their dead-end existence.
And that's where the movie does find it's most insightful strength and solidity, in how well it portrays both the considerable emotional gap between the two ladies as well as mirroring their personalities as almost complete replicas. Rarely are they shown in the same frame together, but newcomer Hegyi and unsung veteran Nyako convey the doppelganger effect with a remarkable precision.
Angela can easily sigh at her mother's helplessly introverted personality (in the film's most facetious sequences, we see viola wander through a dating service as she haggardly dismisses her male suitor's fervent pursuits, and at an evangelical gathering where she refuses to play along) and scorn at her odd, obsessive habits (her penchant for using air freshner is borderline fetishistic), but the movie pressingly notes that she is almost completely alike.
While Viola may, unenthusiastically, have the need to 'belong' (wherever to, and why, is beyond her) for which her personality doesn't allow, Angela has the typical adolescent, angst-ridden' urge to break out, treating her surrounding enviorment with a similar sense of bored indifference. The people around her are viewed as unexciting (she treats her whiny 'best-friend' as Hollywood-issue, and acts wayward around her new, sort-of boyfriend (part physics-geek, part plebeian dream-boy) who, like viola's would-be suitors, pursues her with an aggressive animal attraction), and almost every get-together ends with a tedious anti-climax. In her mind, nobody should mess with her strict, habitual determination, which including strenuously hewing her latest sweatshop-style dress at school and dancing around magazine cutouts of chic apparel designs around the flat (as well as opening it's windows whenever viola comes home, since all the synthetic air freshener in the world can't shake Angela's interpretation that her mom stinks).
Late in the movie, there's a botched road trip, an altercation at the subway restroom and some taciturn female bonding subsequent to the accident to illicit some requisite dramatics, only quasi-necessary for what is otherwise an effectively anecdotal, quirky bit of slice-of-life deadpan that is happily content to be intelligently modest. And that's welcome for "Fresh Air's" very modern story of the dis-communication between parents and offspring and the occasionally disparate paths they take, though they are often followed in remarkably similar ways. With some sharp humor and sharper emphasis on the subtleties of the moods and tension between the seemingly hapless characters, it's a gratifying (if a bit slow-moving) dramedy debut that fans of Bent Hamner, Aki Kaurisamki and all other droll Scandinavian comedies should check out immediately.
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