DOWN BY LOVE
dir. Tamás Sas
Grade
78 2003
    
Down By Love (the Hungarian title is Szerelemtöl Sújtva) is a unique film experience that explores the relationship of a schizophrenic woman with the world around her.  It announces a unique voice in director Tamás Sas, who has previous credits as a director and cinematographer (he is also credited with co-writing the script).  The film is intensely formalist, marking the end of each movement with a fade to red and the end of each day with similar establishing shots of the street outside Éva's flat.
     Most of the film is spent inside Éva's flat where Sas uses the theatrical limitation of one-stage to create a very claustrophobic and threatening space to both the viewer and Éva, in a way that recalls Roman Polanski's
Repulsion.  Although the set doesn't ever appear to be especially large, Sas' finds a way to photograph it so that it never becomes visually dull to the viewer and gives off the impression of tightening and opening up spatially, depending on the mood of the protagonist.  Sas allows the viewer to hear voices of those who Éva (might be) interacting with but keeps them offscreen, even when they enter the set.  The result not only grounds our sympathies with Éva, but also gives the other characters the feeling of incredible dislocation from their bodies and from Éva. 
     A lot of the success that Sas has with the material is dependent on the performance of Patricia Kovács as Éva, who is onscreen for practically every moment of the film and is able to sell her character's unbalance but also some of very tricky soliloquies to herself.  It is a very ballsy performance that could have fallen flat but it totally works and I fully suspect it will be the best performance I see this year. 
     Tamás Sas work here as director is a virtuoso tight-rope that mirrors Patricia Kovács performance and takes as many chances.  It is as formally challenging in its way as Lars Von Trier's
Dogville and is as inspired a piece of cinema as that film.  Sas makes particularly effective use of offscreen sound and expressionistic sound distortion, also his lighting choices and use of color gels are inspired.  If Sas drops the ball at all it is with his screenplay which is sometimes not as tight or lean as his mise-en-scene, including a very carelessly dropped in (literally) plot point.  I also wish Sas had let Éva spend a little less time communicating her feelings on the phone and found a way to communicate these visually, which probably wouldn't have been hard considering how talented he is as a visual artist.  These are small complaints though for a film that makes for such exciting cinema.