Karlovy Vary 2016: Eva Nová review

"Everyone says: 'Less emotion, less emotion.' How can anyone act without emotion?" So complains the eponymous veteran actress in Slovakian drama Eva Nová. She's lamenting her plight; unemployed and at the mercy of modern, young directors and contemporary conventions towards minimalism. The first interesting thing about this exchange is her denial of the real reason for her professional decline - years spent soused have done infinitely more damage than her acting style.

All the more pertinent is the way that this minor exchange highlights just what is so exceptional about the bravura performance from Emília Vásáryová upon which Marko Škop's intimate and understated portrait rests. The film begins as Eva checks out of rehab for the third time and follows her as she struggles with her obsolescence as a performer and as a mother whilst trying to deny her erstwhile bottle-shaped crutch. Vásáryová's turn is one of incredible restraint and myriad aspects. Every conversation is a finely tuned rendition with the audience afforded a backstage pass. Her eyes well with the tearful memories of faded beauty and former glories while every line on her face seems etched by some ill judgement of years gone by.

Regardless of what Eva tries to do or who she tries to reconnect with, her past indiscretions linger like a leprous fog - the most stinging rebukes dealt by her son, Dodo (Milan Ondrík). His performance is far less subtle, but still filled with nuance. Hateful when Eva pitches up looking forlorn and conciliatory, his anger and tears are themselves fuelled by drink when his aunt - Eva's sister who stepped in during his mother's absence - passes away. Eva sees reflected in him the repercussions of her selfishness and the destructive cycle perpetuating in the strained relationship between her son and his family. As he lashes out, he confronts her with the way that she has herself alienated those she cares about.

Regret is all well and good, but it's the future that Eva is seeking to rescue and as such the visuals are unfussy, expressing the mundanity of the current situation and eschewing the temptation to ape the waning glamour of the lead. Cinematographer Jan Melis works primarily in documentary and he brings the same sensibility to this piece, often happy to rest reasonably close to Vásáryová's face, giving her "less emotion" time to transcend such descriptions. As she tries to resist a relapse, Škop's screenplay puts her through the wringer, tackling the marginalisation of older female actors alongside the crippling pull of addiction.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson


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