Sometimes one chances upon a rare gem in the cacophonous midst of a film festival, where literally dozens of works are trying to grab your attention, sometimes seductively titled. One such picture that caught one’s eye was Hungary’s The Wednesday Child. Having been born on that day of the week -- and often called a child full of woe according to a fortune-telling nursery rhyme - this writer could not resist watching the movie at the ongoing 37th edition of the Cairo International Film Festival.
Directed by Lili Horvath, The Wednesday Child, part of the 16-strong competition, turned out to be a hauntingly touching tale of a 19-year-old mother’s struggle to get custody of her five-year-old son, growing up in an orphanage.
The gritty drama nabbed Karlovy Vary Festival’s East of the West Prize, and has been helmed in an arrestingly natural manner, where the young protagonist, Maja (a striking debut by Kinga Vecsei), is desperate to have her son over. It is not easy for her to shake off her bad habits and bad relationships.
Pretty, but tough talking (she has a scandalous vocabulary of swear words), she lives with her boyfriend in a seedy housing complex on the outskirts of Budapest. The guy, Krisz, is a petty thief, who breaks into cars to steal whatever he can lay his hands on. Maja helps him at times, and she herself survives on state dole and on the little goodies she can pocket from time to time. But she is more than willing to give up all this if life were to give her a chance to lead an honest existence.
And one fine morning that chance knocks on her door, and a micro-credit scheme is offered to her. She wants to open a laundry with the money, and although the wary social worker, Janos (Szabolcs Thuroczy, nuanced and poignant in an atypical role) is aware that Maja’s careless attitude may spell trouble, he gives the green signal.
The fact that the scheme involves four members, and even if one were to default with payments, the others will lose out on credit inflow, infuses a subtext in a plot that is essentially about a young mother’s intense affection for her child. If the movie’s tense moments relate to Maja’s business deals, with the other members pressuring her to be more responsible, one cannot miss that sequence in the woods when the little son is lost. Maja’s angst has been captured nicely.
Maja’s woes do not relate only to the custody of her son -- having grown up in an orphanage herself she understands the loveless hardships there. Life throws other challenges at her. Her boyfriend in a fit of jealous rage damages the washing machines in her laundry just when everything is ready to roll.
Although the character is extremely complex, Thuroczy carries it with wonderful ease. She is tender but defiant, seductive and practical -- an amazing contradiction that finally sees her through turmoil and turbulence.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cairo International Film Festival).