Classic of the week – Love (Szerelem)

Karoly Makk (1970)

A frail but stately old lady (Lili Darvas) wanders through her apartment dreaming of her son Janos returning home from his successful life in the USA. Unfortunately her imaginings are based on a fiction. Her daughter-in-law Luca (Mari Torocsik) is concealing the fact that he is in fact a political prisoner, and she regularly brings fake letters from him that she has written herself describing an idyllic and fabulously successful life in the movie business. As the women contemplate these tall tales of grandeur, which at least one of them knows is a falsehood, black and white images of their fantasies and memories fill the screen. Mari Torocsik is just wonderful as the vivacious, modern woman who keeps up appearances for the old woman while her own life, job and home fall apart because of her husband’s imprisonment. It’s clear she needs to write the letters as much as the mother needs to hear them.

The second part of the film moves to Janos, unexpectedly released, returning home too late to see his mother alive. The reunion of the couple is a masterpiece of subtle tenderness. Few films have managed such a perfect balance of humanism, political criticism and sorrowful fragile beauty. Superb cinematography from Janos Toth captures both the faded ancient regime style of the old lady’s now shabby apartment and the harsh modern world outside inhabited by the resourceful Luca. At Cannes in 1971 Love won the Jury Prize and both Torocsik and Darvas (unbelievably only 64 at the time), gained Special Mentions. Made around the time of many very fine films such as The Conformist, Death in Venice, and Days and Nights in the Forest, and rarely seen on Best Films lists, this film deserves to stand alongside them as a masterpiece.

Transylvania International Film Festival, Cluj, 2012

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