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Bitter truth pushes 'Love' to the brink

In the suspense-filled drama, a young woman with a much older, married lover comes to some devastating realizations.

March 05, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

In the harrowing "Down by Love," the exquisite Patricia Kovacs, one of Hungary's leading young actresses, and director Tamas Sas walk a tightrope from start to finish and never falter for a second.

For 92 minutes Kovacs holds the screen while the occasional people with whom she interacts are either heard over the phone or glimpsed in shadow or from behind. Kovacs' portrayal is a tour de force, reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck in "Sorry, Wrong Number," and "Down by Love" is as demanding and complex a role for an actress as Jean Cocteau's pair of one-woman monologues, "La Voix Humaine."

"Down by Love" opens on an upbeat note. Kovacs' Eva has just returned to her comfortable apartment in a quaint, old Budapest neighborhood from a holiday in Venice with her lover. Yet the vacation has given Eva, a 24-year-old animator, an unexpected perspective on her life.

At the outset of the film she really believes her lover Tibor (Gabor Matte), 22 years her senior and a noted novelist and university professor, is at last going to ask wife Klara (Rita Tallos), for a divorce, and they will go off to Argentina, where Tibor has been offered a teaching post. But very quickly Eva discovers that Tibor is still waffling and may not even be able to keep a date with her the very next day.

Sas rigorously eschews conventional exposition and ingeniously reveals Eva bit by bit in her interactions, her musings and even from a nightmare she experiences.

The first shock in this shocking film -- even more for its psychological revelations than its jolting scenes -- is how very long Eva and Tibor's affair has been going on and the circumstances in which it began.

It becomes clear early on how she has been conditioned to trust and adore Tibor, even to the extent of discouraging a young suitor her neighbor Lenke (Jozsa Hacser) feels would be ideal for her. Yet the reality of Tibor's shameless exploitation is becoming harder for Eva to deny, and the suspense builds: How will Eva handle this devastating awareness?

Kovacs and Sas are both inspired in evoking and sustaining Eva's seesawing emotional states and in making her predicament persuasive through rich detail and nuance.

It says a lot for Sas and the film's virtually unseen supporting cast that it makes such a strong impression. Sas reveals his resourcefulness as a filmmaker in being able to create rhythm, pace and variety while confined largely to Eva's apartment.

Never does "Down by Love," handsome and fully crafted, have the feel of being a filmed play. It emerges as a fresh, challenging and unpredictable experience with a stunning finish.

*

'Down by Love'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Times guidelines: Adult themes and situations; too intense for children

Patricia Kovacs...Eva

Gabor Matte...Tibor

Jozsa Hacser...Lenke, Eva's neighbor

Rita Tallos...Klara

Imre Csuja...Neighbor's son

Zsuzsa Jaro...Zsuzsa

A Bunyik Entertainment release of a Tivoli Filmproduktion -- RTL Klub production. Director Tamas Sas. Producer Denes Szekeres. Screenplay by Can Togay, Tamas Sas. Cinematographer Elemer Ragalyi. Editor Karoly Ari. Music David Yengibarjan. Costumes Dalma Devenyi. Production designer Marton Borbas. In Magyar, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., (310) 274-6869.

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