A deep breath of Kaurismakian deadpan, "Fresh Air" measures the deceptively wide emotional chasm between a neat-freak workaholic who cleans subway toilets and her quietly defiant daughter with ambitions to design clothing who's more like her than either of them can imagine. Certainly the quietest major pic on display at the 37th Hungarian Film Week, this confident feature from 25-year-old helmer Agnes Kocsis earned her the Sandor Simo prize for best first film and is sure to be a strong draw for fests, with specialized arthouse biz and tube sales also in the mix.
First seen gently fending off a suitor at the Lost and Found Hearts singles gathering, Viola (Julia Nyako) lives quietly with daughter Angela (Izabella Hegyi) in a tidy retro flat. Though they seldom talk to one another and are each possessed of nearly obsessive domestic behavioral patterns, they look forward to their weekly dose of a popular television program, which they watch together on the couch.
Leisurely yet precise narrative follows Angela's ambitions to become a fashion designer with the help of pal Martina (Anita Turoczi). Her sort-of b.f., Emil (Zoltan Kiss), spouts physics equations but seems to like her. Later, Uncle Florian (Miklos Nagy) visits and asks Viola for money.
The interest of Kocsis and co-scripter Andrea Roberti is so clearly on the eccentric rituals of mother and daughter that the film itself becomes as absorbing as their regimented lives. Cast rises to the challenge, with Hegyi carrying bulk of pic as a most listless rebel.
Tech credits are quietly understated, with Adam Fillenz's formal compositions offering a balanced gaze of the subdued action. Nina Simone's 1961 studio recording of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is used to good effect. Oddly enough, for a film with such an evocative sense of place, there's no prominent credit for either production designer or art director.
Camera (color), Adam Fillenz; editor, Tamas Kollanyi; music, Balint Kovacs; costume designer, Fanni Halmi; sound (Dolby Digital), Attila Madaras. Reviewed at Hungarian Film Week (competing), Budapest, Feb. 6, 2006. Running time: 109 MIN.