DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
GIRL, THE (ELTÁVOZOTT NAP) (director/writer: Márta Mészáros; cinematographer: Tamas Somlo; cast: Kati Kovács (Erzsebet Szonyi), Ádám Szirtes (Mr. Zsamboki), Teri Horváth (Mrs. Zsamboki), Gábor Harsányi (Lajos Zsamboki), Zsuzsa Pálos (Mari), Gábor Agárdi (Mr. Papolczai); Runtime: 90; Hungaro Film/Mayfilm; 1968-Hungary)

 
"This first feature-length directorial effort of Mészáros is staggering emotionally."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Those eyes on Erzsebet (Kati) tell all, as she stares coldly ahead unafraid of being alone in the world, daring anyone to look at her directly. The 24-year-old factory worker in Budapest has been raised in an orphanage and now wants to track down her real parents and find out why they put her up for adoption. That is the plot for this austere black-and-white Hungarian film.

Erzsebet locates her mother, Mrs. Zsamboki (Horváth), and writes her a letter asking permission to visit. Mother turns out to be a very fearful, old-fashioned peasant, wearing a black shawl as do the other older farm ladies in the village. In anguish she tells her daughter that she wrote her back to not visit. When her daughter, who can't stop looking at her, says that she didn't get that letter -- the mother says tell the family you are my niece. Life in this remote country village called Varkut is oppressive, with nothing to do but work hard and eat a lot and watch bland TV programs. She lives with her husband, her twenty-something son and with her husband's mother; and, she feels very uncomfortable having this pretty city girl as a guest, who keeps looking at her. The talk between mother and daughter never materializes as Erzsebet finds the week-end to be draining, realizing that there is nothing more to say or do here. She steals away from the house at night, without even a good-bye, after attending a local dance with the family. The dance seemed to finally convince her that she didn't fit in. This is a place for the older generation to wile away their time, even her mother's son told her he wants to leave for the city to be in a place with more action.

On the train back Erzsebet meets the same guy who tried to pick her up before, but she refused to talk to him. But now Erzsebet changes her mind and accepts his offer to stay the night with him. There is no passion in her lovemaking, but the guy has fallen for her anyway. There is a coldness and distance about Erzsebet that speaks ill of Hungarian society and its lack of warmth. Erzsebet refuses his offer to be a serious couple by telling him that she doesn't love him. The fierce B/W camera work captures the look of devastation on his face.

When followed by a teen-ager who tries to pick her up Erzsebet tells him to jump off the bridge, which he does. All that gets him, is that she pays his fine when the police ticket him for swimming unlawfully. Her beauty and aloofness attracts men but she can't let go of what is bothering her, so she has nothing to give.

In Budapest we observe Erzsebet working at her secure but monotonous factory job, a job that she doesn't complain about but thinks about often. The oppression is so great, that it is not even overtly mentioned, it is just taken for granted.

An aggressive man approaches her at work, telling her he has some news about her parents and would like to talk to her in a restaurant. She ends up paying for his meal and cognacs and realizes that he is her downtrodden father, who even now can't be straight with her about who he is and has to make up a bogus story about her parents.

Erzsebet has found out what she has to know about herself; what will become of her is hard to say. But it is not pity that she needs, nor is it love that she thinks she needs. This first feature-length directorial effort of Mészáros is staggering emotionally. Its heartfelt dramatics and sparse dialogue, help make it a film of great integrity. There is no soft pedaling of reality to spare the orphan's feelings. The world she lives in is too bleak for happy music and dreams. Márta Mészáros, the director, is the wife of renowned Hungarian director Miklos Jancso.

REVIEWED ON 7/31/99      GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: " Ozus' World Movie Reviews "

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