Hungarian filmmaker Virág Szabó’s second short film, “Wellness”, is having its international premiere at the 2017 Sarajevo Film Festival after screening in Competition (Hungarian Shorts) at the Friss Hús Budapest International Short Film Festival earlier this year.
Based on Krisztina Tóth’s novella, “Wellness” tells the story about the friendship between two retired ladies, Teri and Ilona. They have been friends for decades and they are spending their holidays together in a wellness hotel paid by Ilona’s son. Despite the seemingly ideal situation, they cannot really enjoy themselves as the air conditioning in their room goes wrong, and, later, one of Ilona’s former colleague shows up. The film follows one day of their stay, when the ladies try to get the most out of the vacation. With their constant activities, they try to suppress their own anxiety. During that particular day, unspoken secrets come to light. By the end of it, their friendship, based on habits and mutual concealment, reaches a point where both reconsider not only what they know about each other, but also what they know about themselves.
In spite of its seemingly fairly simple premise, Szabó’s short tackles a number of important social issues and subtly denounces them. First, there is the implicit body shaming from Ilona to Teri, conveyed through disapproving looks and comments (delivered by an excellent Márta Egri). Then, there is also the dichotomy embodied by the term “wellness” today; pools, spas and a hearty breakfast, that contradicts the very notion of wellness. The concept of body image, social perception and judgment (shame of fatness that has recently started the encouragement of body positivity) are also part of the criticism here because, ultimately, we are what we eat. Partly through this lens, Szabó also explores another topic – that of friendship and everything that entails, including secrets, simmering conflicts, flamboyant rivalry and the subsequent disappointment. The director astutely hints at the fragile nature of the ladies’ friendship through their conversation beside the pool. Indeed, it was never as strong as we believe it to be. And, we can sense it from the first scene. Moreover, Szabó also intertwines the gay theme in the story, thus adding another layer of social criticism to her short. But, what is perhaps the most important aspect of “Wellness”, is that its protagonists are human; they are confronting their old age the best way they know how: as a bitter experience that needs to be dealt with through resignation and self-indulgence.
With confident directing, very good techs (especially the crisp and detached lensing, courtesy of Gábor Tausz) and outstanding performances by Ibolya Csonka and Márta Egri, “Wellness” is a sensible, subtle and thought-provoking meditation on friendship, disappointment, old age, loneliness, timely and relevant (yet often taboo) matters in today’s society.
Production: Budapest Film Produkciós Kft (Hungary, 2016)
Producer: Sándor Csortors Szabó
Director: Virág Szabó
Screenplay: Virág Szabó
Cinematography: Gábor Tausz
Production Design: Mihály Lukácz
Costume design: Sára Bálint
Editing: Csilla Zsély
Cast: Ibolya Csonka, Márta Egri, Zsolt Kovács
Color – 16 min.
Premiere: March/April 2017