An excerpt from the booklet essay by Agnes Sajti
The 1970s was a decade of some of the most notable and critically acclaimed Hungarian films, including Szindbád (1971) by Zoltán Huszárik, Red Psalm (Még kér a nép, 1972) by Miklós Jancsó, The Fifth Seal (Az ötödik pecsét, 1976) by Zoltán Fábri and even Béla Tarr’s directorial debut, Family Nest (Családi tüzfészek, 1979). However, Károly Makk’s Love (Szerelem, 1971) is possibly the one that best as it encapsulates the transition from the socially aware new wave of the 1960s to the more unconventional, avant-garde films of the 1970s, managing to create a perfect synthesis of both styles.
The film’s construction of time and place is remarkable. First, it establishes a lyrical, poetic mood through montages, where still shots appear on screen, sometimes for only a few frames, to evoke the characters’ memories and subconscious emotional associations. This helps deepen and expand the otherwise straightforward plot uniquely, utilising the power of images rather than words. Second, the historical moment in which the story takes place is depicted unconventionally, never explicitly stating the decade or year. While at the same time, numerous subtle clues and references are scattered in the background, signalling subtle political messages to an audience familiar with recent Hungarian history.
The film is based on two Tibor Déry short stories, Szerelem (1956) and Két Asszony (Two Women, 1962). Déry is an acclaimed Hungarian author praised by literary historian György Lukács as ‘the greatest depicter of human beings of our time’. However, the film’s status as a masterpiece owes as much to its execution as its source material.
The plot seems simplistic on the surface, as we spend much of the runtime in one room with a bedridden old lady (Lili Darvas) and her daughter-in-law, Luca (Mari Törőcsik). The two women bond over the absence of János (Iván Darvas), the old lady’s son and Luca’s husband. Ostensibly both Luca and the old lady are depicted as cynical, petty people, constantly bickering over the smallest things. Yet, the stylistic and formalistic choices of the film express their deeper emotional concerns.
While the old lady languishes in bed obsessively awaiting her son’s return, she reads letters, apparently by János, claiming he is working as a film director in New York and cannot come home until his latest project is completed. However, Luca is writing the faux letters, impersonating János, who has been imprisoned for ten years for political reasons. Luca has been keeping up this lie for some time, detailing János’ extraordinary successes and adventures overseas to try and save the old lady from the harsh possibility of her son never coming back.
Agnes Sajti's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.
(i) Károly Makk Obitiuary - Sight & Sound by Michael Brooke
(ii) A Film That Does Not Age: Károly Makk’s ‘Love’
(iii) Mari Törőcsik interviewed at Kinoeye
(iv) The Budapest 12 (Best Hungarian Films)