TIFF Review: 'Eva Nova'

Eva Nová
(Slovakia, 106 min.)
Written and directed by Marko Škop
Starring: Emília Vášáryová, Milan Ondrik, Anikó Vargová
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The winner of the FIPRESCI prize from this year’s robust Discovery programme at the Toronto International Film Festival is the Slovak drama Eva Nová. Eva Nová is a sobering character study. The film offers a portrait of the toll that alcoholism wreaks on families as Eva Nová (Emília Vášáryová) tries to quit the bottle and sees with fresh eyes how her years of heavy drinking devastated her family. Eva Nová sounds like tough stuff—and rest assured that it is—yet newcomer writer/director Marko Škop laudably handles complex subject matter with sensitivity and restraint. This film and its director are going places.

Škop makes his dramatic directorial debut with Eva Nová following previous work on documentaries, and the film brings a non-fiction filmmaker’s eye for poetic realism as this drama study follows Eva as she tries her best to remain sober. It’s her third attempt to quit the bottle, as her leader at the film’s introductory AA meeting notes, but her friends believe that this time Eva will be like a camel and travel vast deserts before she becomes thirty. The sayings “Third time’s a charm” and “Three strikes and you’re out” both hang over Eva’s road to sobriety as she battles the urge to drink harder than ever as she confronts demons from her past that inspire relapses. The road to recovery isn’t easy, and this weary woman wears the struggle plainly and valiantly.

Eva plays the part of a recovering addict well, naturally, since she was a successful actress in her former life before booze defined her. She’s the Slovak Lindsay Lohan or her generation. Unlike some other films at the Festival, however, such as strong entries like The Waiting Room, Eva Nová doesn’t use its faded actress to emphasize performance. Rather, Eva doesn’t know how to act naturally. She doesn’t know how to blend in now that she’s a nobody. Without booze, she’s just herself, and with no mask to hide behind, her nakedness is more sobering than any part she could ever play.

Eva finds herself at her most vulnerable when she returns home and tries to make amends with the son she abandoned and the sister who filled her absence. Eva’s homecoming reveals just how many lives she ruined with bloody booze as her son,  Dodo (Milan Ondrik) now escapes into both beer and hard stuff (Eva favours vodka) when times get tough, which is often. Her sister Manka (Zofia Martišová), on the other hand, carries stone cold bitterness that needs nary a drop to get going. If one of the most crucial steps to recovery is forgiveness, Eva Nová asks how, if ever, one can move forward when it’s simply too late to be forgiven.

The absence of forgiveness and catharsis keeps the film’s unwavering restraint on an effective balance as Škop encourages the audience to be neither moved nor startled by the devastation that Eva’s drinking has on her family, but rather to witness the sheer difficulty of recovery and reconciliation after so many years of pain. He keeps the camera close to Eva at all times, frequently framing her aged face in close-up portraits, and the camera captures every itch for a relapse Eva suffers as she finds no outlets for her pain or for her desire to get better. As one of her drinking buddies says, “What point is there to life but filling time?” Eva’s restlessness marks the burden of lost time and the unsettling emptiness of time experienced in isolation, rather than with the company of drunken comfort.

However, the film belongs to Vášáryová as her strong performance commands virtually every frame of the film. The struggle is uncomfortably real in Vášáryová’s performance as Eva wrestles with addiction, remorse, and regret, and tries to find a new lease on a life that denies her a fresh start. Like Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas or Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, her performance as Eva Nová is one against which future onscreen alcoholics should be judged.

Rating: ★★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Eva Nová had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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