Reinvention and redemption prove hard mountains to climb in Eva Nová, a quietly compelling character study galvanised by a commanding leading turn from Slovak national treasure Emília Vášáryová.
62-year old Eva (Vášáryová) is a recovering alcoholic and sadly a mere echo of the famous actress she used to be, who in decades past lived the high life in Bratislava. Now the work has dried up and Eva’s in the process of drying out.
With the customary relapses now seemingly behind her, Eva feels strong enough for the humbling task of making amends with her family, whom she hasn’t seen for many years. This begins with a visit to the home of her estranged son, Ďoďo (Milan Ondrik) and his wife and kids. It’s not clear to the audience what she’s done to make him resent her so much, or why her husband is no longer on the scene. These are things we learn gradually as the story unfolds.
Eva’s resolve to stay sober is tested by the hostility she faces from Ďoďo, and equally so from her sister, Manka (Zofia Martisova), who it seems had to pick up the pieces left in Eva’s wake.
This is the fiction debut for director Marco Skop but it continues the humanistic approach prevalent in his documentary work. There’s an authenticity to the characters and we much of what we learn about them is relayed economically in small, non-verbal details.
While the film is intimate in scope, there’s something very universal in its observations on how women of a certain age are treated in society. In particular how much harder it is for a woman to start from scratch, particularly having worked in a male dominated industry and being assessed by her physical appearance.
This is a dream vehicle for an actress, and Vášáryová lives and breathes the part of Eva with a wonderfully nuanced performance devoid of vanity. We see the toll life has taken on her ravaged face in the film’s many unforgiving close-ups. Her Eva is bravely patched together with a fragile sense of dignity and buckets of humility.
Although it’s Vášáryová’s film to own, Ondrik is an equally fascinating presence as Ďoďo, swivelling from anger to vulnerability on a dime. The scenes between mother and son are loaded with a volatile unpredictability.
Eva Nová doesn’t make overt bids for sympathy or judgement, but in its own subtle way it persuades the audience to feel a great deal of compassion for this flawed and complex character.
Eva Nová screens at the Czech and Slovak Film Festival on Thursday, September 22.
Richard Leathem @dickiegee