Based on a 1980 novel with a frightening title, Törvényen belül (Within the Law), by Erzsébet Galgóczi, Egymásra nézve—Regarding One Another—was written and co-directed (along with János Xantus) by Károly Makk, the maker of the great Szerelem (Love, 1971). Egymásra nézve, also highly regarded (International Film Critics’ Prize, Cannes), is considered a landmark in gay cinema—important, because it correlates sexual and political repression in Hungary two years after the 1956 anti-Communist revolution that the Soviet Union, upon invitation by status quo elements, crushed. Regrettably, however, the film is largely rhetorical; it keeps telling us about oppression that never materializes on screen in any convincing or unified way. Its tale of the rocky love affair between two female journalists comes to seem an extraneous anecdote even though both women end up shot to pieces—one (after he rapes her) by her jealous husband, probably paralyzing her for life, and the other, mortally, by authorities as she attempts to cross the border. The final image is a groaner—and as disconnected and rhetorical as everything else: a solitary bird flapping away in the sky, telling us that the victim is “free, free, free at last.”
The first thing the two women share is an office; they work for a newspaper whose title, Igazság, is ironical: to remain in operation, the newspaper must tread carefully, repeatedly compromising truth. For Lívia, who at least believes she is comfortable in her bourgeois marriage, this is no sweat; but Éva, with her peasant background, finds such compromise an increasing strain. Farmers—her people—are being strong-armed to join a cooperative: Éva wants the truth printed about this. She is also the aggressor in her relationship with Lívia, which she wants to be open and free, while Lívia, ambivalent, retreats from each blast of sexual honesty by again towing society’s line, frustrating Éva further.
Makk fills his mise-en-scène with reflections; one woman may espy the other in a mirror. Because of the oppressive nature of society, Éva and Lívia have shadowy existences, divorced from the reality—the substance—of their feelings. Much of the film takes place in bars and restaurants—settings, here, implying transience and incompletion: stops en route to reality rather than reality itself. All this abstractness about the abstract nature of human lives in such a sociopolitical context, however, carries virtue to a fault, becoming something akin to all that the film is decrying. Finally, the rich, sometimes gorgeously dusky color cinematography by Tamás Andor is howlingly inappropriate. Why did Makk so compromise truthfulness by filming in color in the first place?
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