Love (1971) / Drama
aka Szerelem

MPAA Rated: PG for mature themes
Running Time: 84 min.

Cast: Mari Torocsik, Lili Darvas, Ivan Darvas, Erzsi Orsolya
Director: Karoly Makk
Screenplay: Peter Bacso (based on the novel by Tibor Dery)

Unanimous winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival of 1971, Hungarian director Karoly Makk's Love will probably run the gamut of reactions from any audience that sees it, heralded as a masterpiece by those that relate to it, while most likely considered slow and pointless from those who are not in tune with its delicate delivery.  As a result, my rating for the film will be deemed to low for some, while too generous for others, but regardless of where you stand, at least you will know more about the film before you decide to see it and best determine whether you'll give it a chance.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Tibor Dery, who served as a political prisoner himself in the late-1950s, the film tells a simple story of a family asunder.  A woman named Luca, whose husband Janos has been sent away as a political prisoner in 1950s Hungary, tends to her elderly mother-in-law who is on her death bed.  To ease the remainder of the old woman's life, the younger woman keeps her alive with hope, with news of her son's wild and wonderful exploits in America, completely concocted by Luca in hopes of keeping the woman alive until her son's release.  Luca doesn't know when her husband will be released, or if he's alive at all, but she comforts the old woman every day, as they are all waiting until they can be reunited again as a happy family.

Perhaps the most striking aspect to Love is its visual style, sumptuously filmed in black and white by Janos Toth, with lush cinematography and interludes featuring quick-cut editing of various images to evoke a feeling that enhances the story in small but richly detailed ways. 

The acting is very strong across the board, with acclaimed stage actress Lili Darvas, in her final role, very memorable as the old woman whose faculties are fleeting.  Torocsik is also perfectly cast as the smart and adoring wife, who spends great lengths in concocting the elaborate and whimsical stories that will keep Janos's dear old mother hopeful enough to stay alive one more day, every day, watching and waiting for that door to open and be reunited with Janos.

While Love is a simple tale of bitter detachment, longing and hopefulness, underneath, it is more of a commentary on the conditions that exist for many people suffering under the tyrannical rule of political forces.  Although never overt, the film does show how the removal of a man completely, and without warning, can have adverse effects for the loved ones left behind, who don't know where he is, how they can contact him, or if he's been executed.  All they can do is to wait, to pray, to hope that someday he will come walking back toward the pathway to their home, and with any luck, things will be right again.

I think that the more in tune you are with the history of Europe under Communist rule during the middle of the 20th Century, the more you will understand the implications of such a subtle, and often brilliant film.  Sadly, I think that, as time goes on, and with the fall of the Soviet Empire, the impact of such Makk's film will be lost on younger generations, who will not see the film as a pointed cry on the injustice of regimes such as the one that existed in Hungary at the time the film is set. 

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo