Szerelem | Love [1971]

5/10 | 14.Oct.12
Szerelem | Love

DIRECTOR: Károly Makk | WRITER: Péter Bacsó | CAST: Lili Darvas, Mari Törőcsik, Iván Darvas, Erzsi Orsolya, Laszlo Mensáros | Hungary

I have to take it on faith that Szerelem is as powerful and emotionally resonant as the critics say. The screenplay is based on two short stories by Tibor Déry, a well-respected Hungarian writer who was sentenced to prison after the failure of the 1956 revolution, but is set 1953, when on Stalin’s death some number (I’m too lazy to look it up) of political prisoners were summarily released from prison. Károly Makk apparently ran into all sorts of obstacles in the 1960s when he tried to make a film out of it and it was only in the aftermath of the events of 1968 that he managed to produce this film. So clearly there’s a lot of baggage the film drags along with it which may account for the uniformly high regard critics have for this film.

The first two-thirds of Szerelem is essentially a two-person piece about the mother and wife of a political prisoner, János, in which the frail nonagenarian mother recalls events from her past while the wife visits daily and humors her mother-in-law with fantastic stories (and letters she writes from him herself) about János being away in America directing a movie. There’s an abrupt shift in the last third of the movie in which János is released from prison and returns to Luca uncertain of what the future holds for him. The first section is a succession of short scenes filled with barely dramatized dialogue seemingly lifted directly from the original story and punctuated with bursts of very brief images of people and events and objects from the mother’s Viennese youth. At first I thought these quick bursts of images were a fascinating way to see into the old woman’s consciousness, but Makk doesn’t restrict them to portraying her subjectivity; instead, he peppers the movie with “mood” images — door knobs, water droplets, hinges — which increasingly take over like a nervous tick in the last section which is almost without dialogue.

The scenes between Luca and the mother might have had more impact with other, better actors. Lili Darvas plays the mother as sort of a generic old woman — how different Thérèse Giehse was in a similar role in Black Moon! — and I found it very difficult to feel much for her. Mari Törőcsik, on the other hand, is clearly a young stage-trained actress who hasn’t forgotten a thing she learned in acting lessons, and it shows. I found her tiring to watch for long stretches. (I don’t remember having that problem with her in Csend és kiáltás.) The other actors are fine. So, I guess it is what it is and obviously I’m not wild about it.

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