ADOPTION (Márta Mészáros, 1975)

Kata (Katalin Berek, wonderful), the protagonist of Márta Mészáros’s lovely Örökbefogadás, is a 43-year-old factory worker who is having an affair with a married co-worker whom she very much loves. Since the death of her mother (which, she says, forced her to learn how to cook), Jóska is the one person to interrupt her solitude. Now someone else enters her life: teenaged Anna, a detainee at a nearby state institute for female juvenile delinquents, whose history includes running away from home. Above all, her parents want to know that Anna is safe.
     Among other things, the film is about how we sometimes misjudge our own deepest motives even in the matter of truly important decisions and undertakings. Anna wants to marry a 22-year-old boy, whom she loves, or believes she loves; or does she mostly want to free herself from the confines of the institute? Kata wants to have Jóska’s child, or thinks that she does. He will not go along. Anna warns her away from adoption: “Abandoned children are all wounded.” (Because her parents have institutionalized her, she feels abandoned.) But what other ready option has Kata? If she pursues this option, moreover, what had Jóska to do with her wish for a child?; and in this light, is the basis of their love relationship really primarily simply a wish to assuage loneliness?
      Mészáros’s very gray black-and-white film is shrewd about our rationalizations, though most commentators stress what surely participates at least to some degree in the thematic purpose of this particular film: how the bleakness of Hungary’s (at the time) socialist society brews the basis for these self-deceptions.
     Closeups incorporating both Kata and Anna make this film throughout one about emotional intimacy, or the human need for emotional intimacy. However, the (dis)quiet(ing) resolution suggests how little intimate knowledge we have of ourselves. In Adoption people so rarely smile that each smile becomes terribly moving—and ironically so, in one instance, when Kata’s ambiguous smile prefaces her dissolving into tears. (Jóska has not shown up for one of their agreed-upon meetings.)
     The conclusive freeze frame nudges viewers to reconsider everything that has preceded it.
     Adoption won Mészáros the best film prize at Berlin.

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