The Girl (Eltávozott nap, 1968)
Erzsi Szőnyi (Kati Kovács) grew up in state care. She places an advertisement looking for her parents and one day she gets a reply. The Márta Mészáros debut work was shown at the same time as the student riots in Paris. The film is a dramatic overture on a truly significant oeuvre not only thanks to the natural acting of Kati Kovács but the sensitive choice of subject and narrative that is virtually free of all frills and artifice.
Binding Sentiments (Holdudvar, 1969)
Edit, who became the wife of a politician out of a simple peasant girl, suddenly becomes a widow as a result of an accident. She never loved her husband. She lives a wealthy and lonely life amidst false friends, facing one of the last alternatives of her life, i.e. having to face her past in the hope of an independent new beginning. Her sons do not even try to understand her. István, who is of the opposite political conviction than his father used to be but has the same autocratic personality, blames her intention to give up her life-insurance and luxurious apartment on hysteria. He has her watched by Kati, his fiancée, at their summer resort at Lake Balaton in order to prevent her from violating his father’s authority and destroying appearances. Although Edit is too weak to change, Kati is astonished to see István’s limitless brutality, and leaves him.
Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls (Szép lányok, ne sírjatok!, 1970)
In Márta Mészáros’s third feature film we glimpse the life of young employees of a factory who, once the day’s work is over, spend their time with love affairs, parties and concerts. Savanyú (Márk Zala) is going out with Juli (Jarka Schallerová), indeed they are engaged. But are they really ready for a serious relationship? The laid-back dramaturgy, the dynamic cinematography of János Kende and the music (including numbers by the bands Metro and KEX) all sketch a memorable picture of the freer-living generation of 1968.
Riddance (Szabad lélegzet, 1973)
The attractive and smart weaver Jutka is breaking up with Laci, the married workman. She meets András, an undergraduate in his fourth year, at a university club. She’s worried that he will look down on her so she lies and tells him she is also a student, in her first year. Their love affair is blighted from the start by this lie, which later on András insists on sticking to in order to meet the expectations of his first-generation intellectual parents. When the two families get to meet each other, they become entangled in the lies. Finally, the girl rebels and there is a scandal, telling the boy’s mother that she will never be András’s wife.
Adoption (Örökbefogadás, 1975)
43-year-old Kata would finally like to become a mother but her married boyfriend Jóska does not want a child born out of wedlock. One day, Anna, who has run away from the nearby state home, knocks at her door seeking a room where she could meet her friend. Kata becomes friendly with the independent-minded girl and helps her, while the meeting has its own impact on her life. Márta Mészáros wrote a new chapter in film history at the 1975 Berlin Festival with Adoption: she was the first Hungarian and the first woman to win a Golden Bear.
Nine Months (Kilenc hónap, 1976)
Once again, in this film we see Márta Mészáros make a clear stand for women’s rights to self-determination. Our hero, Juli (Lili Monori), is truly her own person who goes her own way in the face of social expectations. For a while she resists the persistent amorous advances of Bodnár (Jan Nowicki), foreman at the factory in Ózd, and even when she relents she is not ready to give up her freedom entirely. She continues to study despite the man telling her she is wasting her time and nor is she ashamed that she maintains a good relationship with the father of her son. Under the guise of the relationship there is, in fact, a struggle of wills based on differences in values.
The Two of Them (Ők ketten, 1977)
Two marriages and the fate of two women are layered over one another in this dramaturgically refined film by Márta Mészáros. Mária (Marina Vlady) is the manager of a women’s worker hostel. This is where Juli (Lili Monori) finds refuge, she is separated from her alcoholic husband and is now forced to bring their child into the hostel despite this being forbidden. Juli’s situation also prompts introspection on the part of Mária. Along with Marina Vlady, Vladimir Vysotsky also appears in a supporting role.
The Heiresses (Örökség, 1980)
We don’t see Isabelle Huppert in a Hungarian film every day, yet Márta Mészáros managed to get her to play one of the lead roles in her drama The Heiress. It is 1936 and the fabulously wealthy Szilvia (Lili Monori) is barren, but she would give anything to be able to have an heir to the vast family fortune. This is why she ‘buys’ Irén (Huppert) in order to have a child by Szilvia’s husband, Ákos (Jan Nowicki), which she would then bring up as her own. However, Ákos and Irén fall in love with each other… This film launched the huge hit Sohase mondd sung by Judit Hernádi; songwriters were Zsolt Döme and István Verebes.
Diary for my Children (Napló gyermekeimnek, 1983)
In 1947, the teenager Juli returns from Soviet emigration after the death of her parents. Her foster mother, Magda, is a favourite of the new system and she attempts to bring up her fostered daughter as a true communist. However, Juli rejects all caring, preferring the cinema to school. She only respects and loves the more free-spirited János, brother of Magda. The first in the autobiographical trilogy by Márta Mészáros struck a new tone compared to her earlier works: it is both very personal and political at the same time. The film won the main jury prize at Cannes.
Diary for my Loves (Napló szerelmeimnek, 1987)
Juli has moved out from Magda’s and is working in a textile factory. Magda gets her dismissed from the factory so she takes her final exams and sets her sights on becoming a film director. The college rejects her application but she does, however, get into the faculty of film directing in Moscow. Juli investigates the whereabouts of her parents and then after the death of Stalin she intends to make her diploma film in Hungary but the film is not accepted because of her critical voice. Hearing of her father’s rehabilitation, she returns to Moscow. In the wake of the outbreak of the uprising in Budapest in October 1956, she finds she is unable to return home for some time.
Diary for my Father and Mother (Napló apámnak, anyámnak, 1990)
Márta Mészáros dedicated the third in her Diary films to the 1956 Revolution. In October, Juli (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi) is stuck in Moscow while here in Hungary János (Jan Nowicki) is actively participating in the uprising. Juli can only make it back home in November… The work examining the contradictions and personal dilemmas of the uprising and particularly the period following its crushing is one of the most moving chronicles of those fateful weeks.
György Ráduly, National Film Institute - Film Archive, Director
Tamara Nagy, National Film Institute - Film Archive, International Sales Executive