(Hungary 2022; Dir: Anna Gyimesi)


Fear of Joy

review by Mariana Hristova


original title: Affrikáta

length: 26

year of production: 2022

country of production: Hungary

director: Anna Gyimesi

production: Ádám Felszeghy, Zoltán Mártonffy

director of photography: Gergely Pálos

editing: Anna Gyimesi, Attila Csabai

sound: Botond Csizmadia

cast: Adél Kováts, Kinga Csutak-Hoffmann, Lilla Kizlinger, Márk Nagy

festivals: Sarajevo Film Festival

© images: 'Affricate' (Anna Gyimesi)

“Trauma induces fear and now you’re acting out of fear,” reasons Gabor Maté, the Hungarian-Canadian physician and author who gained worldwide fame with his spot-on insights on the human soul. “Trauma is that scarring that makes you less flexible, more rigid, less feeling, and more defended.” [1] Almost every word of his description touches on the rich palette of conflicting emotions reflected by the hypersensitive Hungarian short film ‘Affricate’, which recently celebrated its world premiere as part of the international short film competition of the Sarajevo Film Festival.

Pain, emotional rigidity, suppressed desires, urge for defensiveness, and, indeed, fear (of rejection, humiliation, or involuntary demonstration of vulnerability), are just some of the feelings one could read through the tense features of the main character Klara, a middle-aged single mother on a vacation with her teenage daughters, one of whom has a disability. Lena is somewhat impaired in her movements but she walks independently, seems cheerful, and is obviously used to dealing with her image of “the other”. However, mom Klara appears to be deeply scarred and paralyzed by the issue. Her daughter’s fate is her trauma and what lies ahead in the near future is another trauma: the upcoming necessary separation of their worlds since very soon her children will be adult women, making independent decisions. Pressed between the stress around Lena’s condition and the looming perspective of the empty nest, Klara has forgotten that life is not solely a burden but could and should be enjoyed too. Fortunately, an external gaze resurrects her deeply buried femininity and happens to be unprejudiced enough to help her see things from a different angle, at least for a moment.

The three of them are at the Croatian seaside, sharing a room, but the girls already claim their need for privacy: “You could sleep alone this time,” they say to their mother at the moment of distributing the beds. However, Klara does not lose sight of them and won’t relax for a minute – she chases the staff to fix the bath for Lena’s needs and gets preoccupied when a hotel employee invites the sisters to participate in a talent show. Afraid of the prospect to see “her” Lena mocked and condescended, she tries to prevent negative reactions, but what is meant to happen is beyond her control, and that is valid both for her daughters and herself. Klara must face the fact that protecting her child from harm could also protect her from joy simultaneously — she might have deprived herself of her innermost needs more often than not.

Titled after this complex type of consonant [2] with buzzing, not easy-to-pronounce sounds that are quite present in the Hungarian language, ‘Affricate’ evokes an allusion to the uneasy communication between the mother and her daughters, the obstructed flow of their mutual exchange. But Affrikata is also the name of the hotel they are staying at during their holiday. We will not learn the reason why the place has been given such a peculiar name because Klara refuses to know it too – as if she is afraid the answer might be a bad joke [3], as if everyone around her is a potential enemy who might ultimately destroy her already troubled integrity. This rupture of internal peace and fractured sense of self is eloquently depicted by the experienced actress Adél Kováts, through an impressive array of contradictions that pass her facial expressions like a whiff of emotional life that has long since been cut down.

It's not the first time that filmmaker Anna Gyimesi deals with the subjects of trauma and separation. Her graduation film ‘Forty Years’ (2018) is a tender absurdist look at the challenging process of parting with a lifelong partner, while ‘The End’ (2019) focuses on the traumatic moment one is forced to let an exhausted relationship go. What further connects Gyimesi’s previous work with ‘Affricate’ is the complex and nuanced way in which the inner world of her irrational characters are presented; acting beyond reasoning and composed of pure emotion. Her extraordinary intuition for intimacy and truthfulness creates intense and moving portraits, complemented in the latter case by Kováts’s profound psychological performance as she herself is the mother of a young woman living with a chronic illness. Kinga Csutak-Hoffmann, who plays Léna, also invested her personality into the film’s texture and the script developed a lot as a result of her telling stories about her own experiences. “Kinga talked a lot about the strange duality that she experienced observing the disabled young people around her — on the one hand, the parents expect them to get by in certain situations on their own after a while, but on the other hand, they don't really want this either, because they are afraid of this new situation”, shares Gyimesi.

Perhaps, the film’s most valuable aspect is how it wakes the viewers’ imagination and recreates possible scenarios about Klara’s past struggles related to Lena’s disability – she has certainly encountered weird stares and tittle-tattles and had to cope with the pity (openly expressed or randomly noticed in the eyes of others), poorly disguised intolerance or even mere rudeness. Without direct references, the door to her past is discreetly open, and there lies the key to what occurs in the film in this short and specific excerpt of the present, leading to Maté’s conclusions again: “Trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you.”

[1] Caparrotta, Martin, "Dr Gabor Maté on Childhood Trauma, The Real Cause of Anxiety and Our ‘Insane’ Culture", HumanWindow.com (2020)
[2] An affricate is a type of consonant consisting of a plosive followed by a fricative with the same place of articulation: examples are the tʃ and d sounds at the beginning and end of the English words ‘church’ and ‘judge’ (the first of these is voiceless, the second voiced). Source.
[3] Actually, the initial concept was that Lena had problems with articulation and the mother is stuck to the daily routine even during the vacation: to polish Lena's affricates, explained Anna Gyimesi. But the team found the actress for the role of Lena, they changed the concept but decided to name the hotel Affricate without rational explanation.