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The Unbalanced (Zošalieť)

Nadia's dream home turns into a nightmare after a neighbour from hell pushes her over the edge - Slovakian blend of comedy and horror premieres at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


What is remarkable about Zuzana Piussi’s first feature film is how subtle her narrative arcs are. Just as much as the protagonist, Nadia, is repressing a mesh of deeply-rooted neuroses, the film conceals the breadth of its own narrative, only giving viewers hints and clues for them to eventually put the pieces together. Like analysts waiting for the moment where the patient’s fixations finally become apparent, viewers scrutinise Nadia’s behaviour counting the time before the controlled performance is eclipsed by latent lunacy.

The film presents itself, at first, as a slightly abstract piece of realist cinema. It flows from one glimpse of life to the next like a documentary. But slips of the tongues occur here and there, as well as sudden lapses into dream-reality where thrusts of desire make manifest disavowed anxieties related to Nadia’s sex life.

It seems that the pieces of Nadia’s life-puzzle are coming together, at last, when she acquires a new flat after what looks like much effort. The spacious and welcoming dwelling is affordable and close to the city centre. What could go wrong? Not unexpectedly, it turns out that this deal was too good to be true – the neighbour above is a psychotic woman who is hellbent on preventing the tenants below from enjoying their newly-purchased home. She throws her entire garbage bin through her window which cascades onto Nadia’s balcony; she plays loud music in the middle of the night; she knocks at their door aggressively accusing Nadia’s daughter of moving furniture around. This nuisance becomes so intense that it starts disturbing Nadia to the core. Attempting to find a solution, Nadia pays visits to a few reluctant neighbours who tell her that the woman is ‘legally incompetent’. The state agents, who were perfectly aware of the issue when selling the flat, insist that there is nothing they can do.

The film unveils a subtle social commentary on the ways in which society mercilessly pushes aside unfit individuals. It seems Valika, the ‘psychotic woman’ has been bouncing around from place to place until her guardians finally found an apartment sufficiently far apart from everyone, so that all can live freed from the reminder that she exists. All, that is, except Nadia and her daughter. The film draws an interesting parallel between the social elements societies struggle to confront, and the individual’s own anxieties which they repress and disavow.

Indeed, as Nadia attempts to distance herself from the ‘truly psychotic character’ living above her, she slowly comes to grips with the hidden neuroses that haunt the edges of her fragile psychology. The highlight of the film, in my view, is a scene where Nadia, and her closest friend, Vlado, drunkenly flirt with the idea of having sex for the first time after a twenty year-long platonic relationship. While initially seduced by the idea, Nadia rejects Vlado, claiming: ‘I’m all brains, I don’t have it anymore’. This striking scene discloses aspects of Nadia’s interiority and paves the way for the final reveals of the narrative.

Piussi’s experience directing documentaries is palpable in the way that she blocks and shoots her scenes. A sense of realism pervades a film which showcases techniques one associates with the documentary genre: jump cuts, a milky colour palette combined with a 16:9 ratio, the use of wide angle lenses. Shot during Covid times, the masks which the characters have to wear from time to time also add to the sense of realism. Finally, there are moments one sees rarely in cinema, such as Nadia helping her father take a shower at the hospital, where he complains about the dye of his cheap underwear having blackened his testicles.

The Unbalanced is showing in the First Feature Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Liván García-Duquesne - 26-11-2022

Livan Garcia-Duquesne is a UK-based French-Spanish filmmaker and writer. He holds an MPhil in Film & Screen Studies from the University of Cambridge and his academic work has been centred around t...

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