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Film at Lincoln Center - The Films of Márta Mészáros, a retrospective of the feminist screenwriter and director
Márta Mészáro [ Film at Lincoln Center. Photo credit: Fábián Évi]

Film at Lincoln Center will present The Films of Márta Mészáros, a retrospective of the feminist screenwriter and director’s filmography, January 21-26, 2022.

Márta Mészáros, a socialist and feminist filmmaker whose trailblazing, six-decade career broke barriers in cinema hierarchies, helped legitimize women’s artistic emancipation within the industry, alongside her contemporaries such as Agnès Varda and Věra Chytilová. Mészáros is perhaps best known for her Diary films from the 1980s and 1990s: a largely autobiographical trilogy based on the filmmaker’s life, with references to the tragic fates of her parents resulting from the Stalinist purges and her formative years as an orphan. Taken together, the films of Mészáros are masterful blends of the personal and the political, each one beautifully lensed, gently profound but never sentimental, and vividly attuned to the shifting social atmospheres of Hungary and its decades-long history of political unrest. This January, Film at Lincoln Center is pleased to present a selection of some of Mészáros’s most essential films, newly restored and on the big screen.

Highlights of the retrospective include The Girl, Mészáros’s debut feature and one of the first Hungarian films to be directed by a woman; Binding Sentiments, an examination of how patriarchy reigns despite economic status; the countercultural Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls!, an experimental work in the proto–music video style, reflecting the cultural sea change sweeping Europe during the late 1960s/early 1970s; the director’s fourth feature, Riddance, which conjures a sense of existential entrapment in depicting an ambitious university student’s affair with a young textile-factory worker; the Golden Bear–winning slice-of-life drama Adoption; Nine Months, a riveting examination of a defiant woman who asserts her autonomy in the face of a disapproving society; the multilayered look at female solidarity The Two of Them; The Heiresses, featuring a young Isabelle Huppert and set during the decadence of a prewar Europe being consumed by the onset of Nazism; and the “Diary” trilogy: NYFF22 selection and Cannes Grand Prix–winner Diary for My Children, introducing Juli (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi) as the director’s alter ego who returns to Hungary after losing her father in the Stalinist purges; Diary for My Lovers, which picks up the story of Juli as she defies the wishes of her Stalinist aunt by travelling to Moscow to become a filmmaker; and Diary for My Mother and Father, the heartrending final installment of the “Diary” series, tracing Juli’s journey through postwar Hungary.

FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films screen at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W. 65th St.) unless otherwise noted.

The Girl
1968, Hungary, 80m
Hungarian with English subtitles
One of the first Hungarian films directed by a woman, Márta Mészáros’s debut feature is an assured expression of many of her recurring themes: broken families, the relationships between parents and children, and the search for stability in an uncertain world. Erzsi (Kati Kovács), a young woman living in a hostel in Budapest, sets out to reconnect with her birth mother (Teri Horváth)—a quest that leads her to a small town where Erzsi’s modern, urban sensibilities clash with the conservative, provincial attitudes of the woman who brought her into the world but with whom she has little else in common. Laced with the feminist concerns that would become a hallmark of Mészáros’s work, The Girl is a minutely observed portrait of a woman searching for where she came from in order to figure out where she is going. A Janus Films release. New 2K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Binding Sentiments
1969, Hungary, 82m
Hungarian with English subtitles
Family ties become a trap from which a woman struggles to escape in Mészáros’s quietly devastating sophomore feature. Following the sudden death of her prominent politician husband, middle-aged Edit (Mari Töröcsik) finds herself plunged into an existential crisis, caught between her desire for independence and the machinations of her elder son István (Lajos Balázsovits), who seems intent on controlling her life just as his father did. In the middle of it all is István’s young fiancée Kati (Kati Kovács), who gradually realizes that she may be repeating Edit’s mistakes. Though Binding Sentiments is rare among Mészáros’s works in its focus on a wealthy, rather than working-class, milieu, it strikingly illustrates how the predicaments of patriarchy affect all women. A Janus Films release. New 2K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls!
1970, Hungary, 89m
Hungarian with English subtitles
Infused with the spirit of rock ’n’ roll and rebellion, this music-driven counterculture snapshot unfolds to a near wall-to-wall soundtrack of late 1960s/early 1970s Hungarian psych and folk-rock as it traces the odyssey of a young woman (Jaroslava Schallerová, star of the Czech New Wave classic Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) who, on the eve of her marriage to a factory worker (Márk Zala), experiences a final moment of freedom when she runs away with a touring band. One of Mészáros’s most formally experimental works due to its minimal dialogue and almost proto–music video style, Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls! reflects the cultural sea change sweeping Europe at a time when traditional values were being shaken by a youthquake of individual self-expression. A Janus Films release. New 2K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Riddance
1973, Hungary, 81m
Hungarian with English subtitles
A captivating critique of generational discord and class distinctions in ‘70s Hungary, Mészáros’s fourth feature conjures a sense of existential entrapment in the blossoming love between ambitious university student András (Gábor Nagy) and young textile-factory worker Jutka (Erzsébet Kútvölgyi, Diary for My Lovers), who hides her working-class background in order to preserve the relationship. Exquisitely shot by Lajos Koltai (Adoption), Riddance brings into relief the country’s opposing social attitudes, and the domestic and economic struggles of working women, with remarkable complexity. A Janus Films release. New 4K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Adoption
1975, Hungary, 87m
Hungarian with English subtitles
Mészáros gives aching expression to the experiences of women in 1970s Hungary in this sensitive and absorbing slice-of-life drama, which became the first film directed by a woman to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Through intensely intimate camerawork, Mészáros immerses the viewer in the worlds of two women, each searching for fulfillment: Kata (Katalin Berek), a middle-aged factory worker who wishes to have a child with her married lover, and Anna (Gyöngyvér Vigh), a teenage ward of the state determined to emancipate herself in order to marry her boyfriend. The bond that forms between the two speaks quietly but powerfully to the social and political forces that shape women’s lives as each navigates the realities of love, marriage, and motherhood in her quest for self-determination. An NYFF59 Revivals selection. A Janus Films release. New 4K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Nine Months
1976, Hungary, 94m
Hungarian with English subtitles
A defiant woman asserts her autonomy in the face of a disapproving society in Mészáros’s complex look at the ways in which women’s bodies and minds are held in check by the strictures of patriarchy. Frequent Mészáros collaborator Lili Monori delivers a fearless performance as Juli, a young woman who begins a new job at a brick factory, where she is immediately pursued by possessive foreman János (Jan Nowicki). Their relationship grows complicated when he discovers that she is raising a son from a previous lover. Mészáros’s background as a documentarian is evident in her feeling for the industrial landscapes of northern Hungary and in the astonishing final scene in which the boundaries between actress and character are radically dissolved. A Janus Films release. New 4K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

The Two of Them
1977, Hungary/France, 98m
Hungarian with English subtitles
Two women, each at a critical crossroads in life and love, find refuge in their friendship with one another in this multilayered look at female solidarity. Mari (Marina Vlady), a middle-aged director of a hostel for working women, grapples with her insecurities about aging and her husband’s impending departure to Mongolia; Juli (Lili Monori), an unruly young factory employee raising a daughter (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi, future star of Mészáros’s Diary trilogy), struggles to escape from her tumultuous relationship with her alcoholic husband (Jan Nowicki). With characteristic sensitivity, Mészáros traces the protective yet complex bond that forms between the two, each at a different stage of life but dealing with the same questions of freedom and autonomy as they chart their rocky paths towards independence. An NYFF15 selection. A Janus Films release. New 4K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

The Heiresses
1980, France/Hungary, 105m
Hungarian with English subtitles
The brilliance of a young Isabelle Huppert lends quiet intensity to this piercing period elegy. Budapest, 1936: Szilvia (Lili Monori), a wealthy heiress to an enormous family fortune, befriends Irène (Huppert), a young seamstress of modest means. Unable to give birth, Szilvia offers Irène money in exchange for conceiving a child with her husband (Jan Nowicki) on her behalf—a transaction that blurs the boundaries of the two women’s social roles and leads all involved into an explosive moral, emotional, and romantic minefield. Set amidst the glimmering decadence of a prewar Europe being consumed by the encroaching rot of Nazism, The Heiresses is a coolly harrowing dissection of class and the cost of motherhood, and a haunting vision of lives on a collision course with history. A Janus Films release. New 4K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Diary for My Children
1984, Hungary, 107m
Hungarian with English subtitles
Mészáros drew on her own wartime experiences to craft this haunting portrait of a young woman coming of age amidst a turbulent historical moment. After losing her father in the Stalinist purges, strong-willed teenager Juli (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi) is brought back from the Soviet Union to Hungary to live with Magda (Anna Polony), a rigid Communist Party official who embodies the icy intellectual repression that has begun to take hold in the country. As she navigates an unfamiliar new world—one caught between the shock of World War II and the rising tide of Stalinism—Juli must fight to retain her sense of self. Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, Diary for My Children is a heartrending personal testimony from an artist revisiting the traumas of the past with a clear and critical eye. An NYFF22 selection. A Janus Films release. New 4K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Diary for My Lovers
1987, Hungary, 132m
Hungarian with English subtitles
Mészáros’s follow-up to Diary for My Children picks up the story of teenage Juli (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi), the director’s alter ego, as she defies the wishes of her Stalinist aunt (Anna Polony) and leaves Hungary in order to pursue her dream of becoming a filmmaker in Moscow. There, Juli must navigate the bureaucratic propaganda machine that demands she conform to its ideas of “realism”; meanwhile, she searches desperately for her missing father. Interweaving its heroine’s journey with the political upheavals of the postwar Eastern Bloc—from the death of Stalin to the short-lived promise of liberalization to the 1956 Hungarian Uprising—Diary for My Lovers is a stirring depiction of a young woman finding her voice in a world intent on stifling it. An NYFF25 selection. A Janus Films release. New 2K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

Diary for My Mother and Father
1990, Hungary, 116m
Hungarian with English subtitles
The heartrending final installment of Mészáros’s autobiographical Diary trilogy continues to trace the journey of Juli (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi), a young orphan, through the tumult of postwar Hungary. Set in the wake of the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution, Diary for My Mother and Father follows Juli as she leaves film school in Moscow and returns home to Budapest where she discovers a shattered world—one where brutality, fear, and anxiety permeate every aspect of life as Soviet forces tighten their grip on society. Seamlessly interweaving documentary newsreel footage with stirring human drama, Mészáros creates an at once epic and intimate portrait of history as she experienced it, chronicling both the horrors of totalitarian oppression and the courage of those who resist. A Janus Films release. New 2K digital restoration undertaken by The Hungarian National Film Fund and approved by director Márta Mészáros.

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