Review: Gentle

Written and directed by László Csuja and Anna Nemes, Edina, a female bodybuilder is ready to sacrifice everything for the dream she shares with her life partner and trainer Ádám: to win the Miss Olympia. The odd love she finds on her way makes her see the difference between her dreams and her true self. Starring: Eszter Csonka, György Turós, Csaba Krisztik and Éva Kerekes.

Bodybuilders and romance aren’t exactly a typical combination, especially not women bodybuilders who are constantly fighting against societal expectations of beauty which so often reject them. Making Gentle a rather unique adventure, adventure may sound like an odd choice of words but our leading lady Edina (Eszter Csonka) sets out on a journey of self-discovery, and again it’s not in the expected manner. Her story is not one to explore hope or achievement, it questions the work versus the reward, whether the titles and prizes are worth how much you have to give up to win them. It portrays the distinctly unglamorous life of professional bodybuilders, with restricted diets, constant eating, exercising to exhaustion and little room for any other form of a life. When she’s then forced to become creative to fund her profession, she gets a small taste of how other people live, it’s simultaneously a grim, harsh path and holds a lightness, energy and grasp for happiness. A strange story that has a varied mix of sadness, depression, desire and dedication, told through the eyes Edina and her partner, former bodybuilder Ádám (György Turós) trying to relive his best years vicariously through her.

This is a film full of unexpected elements and László Csuja and Anna Nemes’ directorial style, along with Zágon Nagy’s cinematography, creates a complex visual. There’s a contemplative air to its aesthetic which remains throughout, using a rich blend of colour which balances impressively with its rather depressive story. The choices all come together to enhance its reality, it doesn’t exist in a metaphorical world, it follows a straight path but it gives the feel of something more imaginative and artistic. It elevates a story which could have been difficult viewing with a curiosity and adventurous nature, it’s an intriguing combination which pushes the film much further than the story would have alone.

Each of those aspects are not the only ones out of the ordinary with Gentle, next being that Eszter Csonka is herself a professional bodybuilder and making her debut performance, after appearing in Nemes’ documentary Beauty of the Beast. It’s a huge transition to make but with such a unique insight, her performance impressively genuine. Capturing the despair, sadness and longing of Edina while also her commitment and motivation. Similar can be said of György Turós’ portrayal which combines masculinity and vanity with vulnerability and frustration. As the story moves forward, it gives you a bigger understanding of their relationship, dipping its toes into the idea of co-dependence, reliability and shared weightlifting goals being the driving for e behind their partnership.

Gentle is a unique exploration of bodybuilding and the toll it takes, as well as the desperate need it creates for a bigger life and deeper connection. It holds a compelling style, blurring the lines of reality without ever stepping out of it. It’s a harsh and gritty story which has its edges softened by its curious aesthetic. Eszter Csonka leads the film in an impressive manner for her debut performance, tapping into an intense sadness and urge to free herself from the small world she has created.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of Raindance Film Festival 2022 – Nominated for the Discovery Award & Best Performance

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