Having lost her parents to Stalin's purges, a girl returns from Soviet Union to her native Hungary to live with her Stalinist aunt.Having lost her parents to Stalin's purges, a girl returns from Soviet Union to her native Hungary to live with her Stalinist aunt.Having lost her parents to Stalin's purges, a girl returns from Soviet Union to her native Hungary to live with her Stalinist aunt.
A magnificent artistic and cinematic triumph
This is perhaps the most famous film ever made in Hungary, written and directed by the best known of all Hungarian film directors, Marta Meszaros. It won the Grand Prix at Cannes. It is the first of a series of four autobiographical 'Diary' ("Naplo' in Hungarian) films. The date on the film is 1982, but it was not released until 1984, probably because of trouble with the state authorities who must have objected to the showing of so many political abuses in the film. The second film in the series is DIARY OF MY LOVES (1987, to be reviewed), the third is DIARY OF MY MOTHER AND FATHER (1990, to be reviewed), and KISWILMA: AZ UTOLSO NAPLO (which means LITTLE WILMA: THE LAST DIARY, 2000, which I cannot review because it has never been subtitled). I can only review the second and third because they were shown many years ago on television with subtitles and I recorded them off the air; they have never been publicly released with subtitles. Very few of Meszaros's 64 films are available outside Hungary, though two have been released in Italy with Italian subtitles, but nowhere else. She is still alive, aged 85, and is one of the finest woman directors in the entire history of world cinema. Probably the only American female director who ever came near to her standard of powerful and incisive dramatic subjects was Ida Lupino, with whom she shared a concern for social problems (see for instance Lupino's shocking but sensitive film THE BIGAMIST, 1953). This sad film is, alas, typical of the sad tales of hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans who lived through the Second World War and its aftermath. Meszaros's father was a sculptor who was arrested and killed in 1938 in a Stalinist purge. Not long afterwards, her mother died, leaving her an orphan. All of this is shown in this film, in an atmosphere of intense realism mixed with romantic images etched with a rare haunting nostalgia. When a major film director tells her own story on screen, you can be sure it will be full of pain. The intensity of the tragedies shown remind me of Satyajit Ray's films, which are so full of lost people and lost times. Like Ray, Meszaros has a talent for using music well and also for using silence even better. The lighting and cinematography are so superb that the moods are established from the first instant of every shot. The editing is perfect. To play her own teenage self, named Juli Kovacs in the film story, Meszaros chose a remarkable and unique girl named Zsuzsa Czinkoczi, who appears in all four diary films. A child actress brilliantly plays Juli as a child, but the IMDb cast listings do not enable me to identify her, as she is one of the cast whose character is not identified. Czinkoczi was not a professional actress. She came from a family living in extreme poverty and, not long after this film, refused all acting offers except those with Meszaros herself directing her. Jan Nowicki, an actor originally born in Poland and with an obviously Polish name, plays the sympathetic character Janos in the film, and he appears in the three sequels as well (and his son also appears in the last one). Meszaros married Nowicki, and it is not difficult to see why, as he comes across as such a warm person. They later divorced. This film is the only one of the Diary films available on DVD outside Hungary, and in France it is available under the title JOURNAL INTIME. Probably the French are loyal to it because it won the prize at Cannes and received the enthusiastic praise of all the French cinema critics. Certainly the Hungarians seem to be doing very little to call outside attention to their culture, unlike the Poles, who have always been frantically active in promoting their own culture round the world. Countless Polish films are available with English subtitles, but almost no Hungarian ones. If the Hungarian Culture Ministry, assuming there is one, had its wits about it, it would subtitle all of Meszaros's film and promote them abroad, as they are that rare thing in the cinema, high art. Another powerful performance in this film is by Anna Polony (also born in Poland), who appears also in the second and third Diary films. She plays the enigmatic character Magda. Much of the drama in the film concerns her. She is a passionate Party member and accepts a job in the Army as a Major and Superintendent of a prison which contains many political prisoners. She is obsessed with the desire to adopt Juli, but Juli hates her. Juli becomes friendly with Janos, who has known Magda for thirty years and nearly married her, and Janos attempts to intervene to prevent the mistreatment of Juli by beating up a high party official who is molesting Juli. The wrath of the Party comes down on him, and he is sent to prison, where he languishes without hope for years. The film is set between the years 1947 and 1953, and it is full of genuine documentary footage of those years showing the obsessive mass adulation of Stalin and real Hungarian politicians making speeches. Imre Nagy appears in this footage. He would become world famous in 1956 and die in 1958 after the failure of the Hungarian revolution, which was ruthlessly suppressed by the Soviet Union, as everyone knows, just as the Czech revolution was suppressed by them in 1968. Meszaros was making this film during the time the Party was still in power, so she shows drastically over-the-top footage of Stalin worship without comment, but edited into the story in such a way as to make her points. Political censors are always insensitive oafs, and the fact that this film actually got a release under the regime shows they missed the subtle satire completely.
- Jun 10, 2016
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