Dir: István Szabó | Drama, Hungarian 90′
The lives of two woman are laid bare in this gentle exploration of the final days of Communism from Hungarian director István Szabó. Having made their way to the capital to teach Russian a few years previously, the struggle to maintain their social position in the new regime is the focus of the narrative.
Johanna ter Steege gives a smouldering performance as Emma, and her recurring dream of rolling naked down a grassy bank opens this affecting film that glows with a limpid freshness in Lajos Koltai’s black and white camerawork. Enikö Börcsök plays her bubbly and flirtatious friend Böbe. The two sleep in tiny beds in their shared room at the teachers hostel near the airport in Budapest.
Sex is uppermost in Emma’s mind, and we see her subtly trying to capture the headmaster’s attention, across the playground where he chats nonchalantly to another girl, casually throwing her a smile that speaks volumes about their lowkey affair, that carries on despite his wife. Meanwhile her pupils burn their Russian literature books with glee on an open bonfire, and she quietly frets about losing her livelihood now her skills are out of favour – Russian no longer being any use with the fall of Communism. Language is a currency that has been devalued overnight. And Communist party members are no longer revered across the board, and this also applies to the classroom.
While the girls’ lives play out in this new regime, Szabó’s film – co-written with Andrea Vészits – examines a whole world changing suddenly, as ordinary citizens catch their breath and open their minds to the new possibilities and obvious changes that are inevitable. Böbe is convinced she can save herself by marrying a foreign guy. Clearly inequality between the sexes continues to rear its head: one scene shows naked women flashing themselves infront of a camera in the hope of securing preferential treatment for the latest jobs on offer.
There is a raw emotional truth to this engaging drama that calls to mind Kieslowski’s plain-speaking realism, and relates tragic events without ever drifting into sentimentality. MT
NOW AVAILABLE ONLINE BY KIND PERMISSION OF THE HUNGARIAN CULTURAL CENTRE | APRIL 2020