Director: Márta Mészáros
Screenplay: Márta Mészáros, Gyula Hernádi, Ferenc Grunwalsky
Starring: Katalin Kerek, Gyöngyvér Vigh, László Szabó
Runtime: 87 minutes
Márta Mészáros is a name unfamiliar to many, including myself. This is a curiosity as her career extends as far back as the other (and much more celebrated) pioneering European film maker, Agnes Varda. It may be something to do with her country of origin, Hungary, but Second Run (specifically) have been providing ample opportunities to engage with Eastern European cinema for the masses. Some of my favourite films from their entire catalogue are from Hungary – as an aside, I would urge you to seek out My 20th Century (by another wonderful female filmmaker Indiko Elyedi) and Electra, My Love or Silence and Cry (by Miklos Jancso). The BFI are hoping to change some of the perceptions of Meszaro’s work, presenting a retrospective of her work at BFI Southbank in the month of July and that coincides with this release of her fifth theatrical release from 1975, Adoption, from Second Run.
Adoption tells of the journey of a 43-year-old factory worker, Kata, who has reached a crossroads in her life. She is fit, healthy and capable. She has what she feels is a fulfilled relationship as the mistress of a co-worker and does not feel that this needs to change. The one area of her life that she deems in deficit, is that which satisfies her maternal nature. She would like a child but not at any cost. She wants to raise a child borne out of love and seeks approval from her partner, who does not give his approval, seeing it as a further complication to an already convoluted life.
At the same time as Kata is processing the implications of this, she develops a relationship with a local girl, called Anna, who is in the care of the state and resides at the local institute. Initially, the relationship seems based on convenience, as Anna requests the use of Kata’s house for hooking up with her boyfriend, but their relationship soon blossoms as they confide in each other. They share tales of their relationships, Kata with her lover and Anna with her parents, who are still very much alive and well, but uninvolved emotionally or practically with Anna’s life.
They share each other’s dreams, Kata’s to have a child and Anna to get married and to move on with her life. She feels that being someone’s daughter has not been a fruitful part of her life and would like to move on with more positive relationships. The film does a convincing job of creating a believable friendship in a short space of time, one where each party gets some of what they are lacking and when Kata takes on the role of advocate for Anna, it feels right and proper.
The film explores the nature of all types of relationships, without ever prompting to place a value or judgement on anyone. The illegal relationships are explored as freely as those which are in their infancy and the plot is written to allow the viewer to probe how relationships change over time.
Mészáros’ filmmaking and direction is just as effective in how this is revealed. The camera moves to reveal the impact of situations, questions and prompts. The scene where Kata is asking permission to mother a child with her partner revolves slowly from one party to the next as we see the almost pleading nature of Kata’s body language transform to the stoicism of the party that is not moved, all the while hunched over like an ogre. There are numerous other examples of the camera panning across closeups of observers to events or how the protagonists disappear momentarily behind the crowd.
It is a beautifully shot film, beautifully restored and presented in monochrome, which fits the mood of the piece perfectly. There are no exuberant displays or outbursts of emotion, everything is considered and presented with equal amounts of tact and feeling. It may seem that I am talking about a film that is slow in pace or difficult to get through, but Mészáros’s film making has a very watchable and easy-going style and the film’s runtime of 87 minutes flew by.
A new introduction to the film by Márta Mészáros (2021).
Unlike many extras that are promised as introductions, this 4-minute take does exactly that, setting out what Adoption is and what it hopes to say and can be watched ahead of the main feature without spoiling anything. I am always delighted to see and hear from film maker themselves and feel fortunate to have insight from the creator themselves.
A Conversation with Márta Mészáros (2009): an archival interview with the director.
This 20-minute conversation talks broadly about Mészáros history as a film maker, initially about how her femininity played a part (or not) in her career, onto how financing films has changed over the years and finishing with her views on the film making process and her beliefs and thoughts about what she was hoping to achieve. It is clear that Márta is a lady with a strong sense of self who continually does what she believes in. I came away with a strong admiration and sense of person from this short interview.
16-page booklet with new writing on the film by journalist
and critic Carmen Gray.
I feel that Second Run’s booklets are some of the very best in the business. This may be because of the depth of conversation that is engendered by their releases, but this booklet seeks to explore many of the themes that are presented in the film alongside questioning how Mészáros is not more widely celebrated. It is a great film-specific supplement to an interesting piece of cinema.
Adoption is a film where there is little need for histrionics or grand events as it is about capturing the emotions and questions that are found around changes of circumstance and life. It is clear from both the film itself, and from the associated interviews with the film maker herself that she sees film and storytelling as a way of presenting real life and real people. Hers is a voice I hope to see and hear much more of in the future.