The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
It is a cold, wet spring in Budapest. Luca (Mari Töröcsik, brilliant), a schoolteacher, loses her job and is assigned apartment co-tenants; her husband, János (Iván Darvas, unshakably moving), is the cause. He is in prison over politics. Meanwhile, János’s old, bedridden, ill mother (Lili Darvas, Ferenc Molnár’s widow) believes that her son is in the United States making a film. The woman’s servant, Irén, has joined Luca in spinning this compassionate web of protection from the truth. Luca even writes letters to her mother-in-law that are presumably from János. What harm? The old woman, who has already lost another son (to war), will not live to see her János again.
Written by Péter Bacsó from a novel by Tibor Déry, Szerelem is a work of poetry and great humanity. Witty and spirited, Luca has a complex relationship with her mother-in-law, whom she visits every day, with flowers. Her own problems she keeps to herself, not even burdening Irén. She wonders whether her husband is alive. The lies with which she comforts her mother-in-law, who possibly knows more than she is letting on, help Luca keep her husband’s spirit alive and cope with loneliness and her sense of hopelessness.
The filmmaker is Károly Makk. His black-and-white film revolves around Luca’s reality and her mother-in-law’s difficult present, which is infiltrated by slivers of memory, including of her very long-ago past, and imaginings. The film’s rhythm and events do not conform to time; one scene to the next can represent, well, who knows? A week, a month. In this way Makk is able to convey both certain routines and uncertainty, fear, unpredictability. A glimpsed bench later reappears as a memory—or was it a memory in the first place? Bits of film create a haunting mosaic of existence.
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