45 years after the first showing in competition at Cannes, Love (Szerelem) is back on the big screen. The audience at the 69th Festival de Cannes will get the chance to see Károly Makk’s masterpiece selected for the Cannes Classics section, which pays particular attention to restored versions of classic films.
by Nóra Kinga Forgács
Károly Makk, who celebrated his 90th birthday last year, was born in the Hungarian town of Berettyóújfalu. He grew up in a family of film enthusiasts, so already at a young age his fate was irreversibly bound to the calling he would later choose for himself. He went on to create one of the richest and most significant films in the history of Hungarian cinema. After having trained as an associate director alongside the country’s greats at the time, Zoltán Fábri and Zoltán Várkonyi, Makk debuted in the Cannes competition in 1955 with his very own comedy, Liliomfi.
A good 15 years and several directions later, Love became the work of a creator who by that stage was highly esteemed. The film is based on the contemporary Hungarian author Tibor Déry’s two short stories, Love and Two Women and remains almost entirely faithful to its sources. The first is about the politically motivated government show trials whose outcomes were decided upon even before the trials. The second is about the consequences of the events of the Hungarian uprising and the fight for freedom against the Soviet forces, which broke out in 1956. Makk presents the two in a straightforward and realistic way. In Love, the reader finds out about how B., a convicted politician, got from Pest to Buda, first by tram and then by taxi, from a world of inhumane workings of authority and constant tension to home: his wife, his son, solidarity and compassion. The most iconic scene in the novel also finds its way into the final minutes of the future full-length feature film, when the woman washes the man, at once raising him to a Christ-like pedestal and giving back to him the intimacy worthy of humans. Two Women takes the reader through the days spent by a mother and her daughter-in- law, which form the core of Makk’s film. One is waiting for her husband who has been convicted for political reasons, while telling the other that her son has gone to America to direct films. She does everything in her power to make sure that everything should at least go as well as it can for him, as the mother will most probably not make it to see him return home. Everything aims towards this until the very last moment, the very last gesture.
While Károly Makk and his cinematographer János Tóth prepared their film Cats’ Play, which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category, they started working on an association montage technique, which they had in fact already used in their earlier collaborative work, Love. This is how the latter film became the story of two women. The older woman has obstinately lived almost a century waiting for her son, but she’s about to give up. The younger woman remains faithful to her husband and as she wants to live her whole life with him, she cannot give up. The life shared by these two women is about love and dignity. But if there were also powerful connections in the sensitive relationship between the two, it wouldn’t be love and dignity, but rather devotion. Just as the mother hands over her son to the younger woman, the latter shows respect to the former until the very end. Until the final third of the film, B. of Love and János of Two Women are only alluded to and appear only as memories. Károly Makk’s technique of realisation enables him to form an emotional and sensitive bond with his audience. He is also able to make a particular historical moment last to encompass a century worth of history and of people’s life stories, memories and desires.
Whoever sees Love and then reads Déry’s writings will probably realise that the two female protagonists, who at Cannes received separate recognition for their performance, instinctively come to mind. Over the years the intonation, facial expressions, posture and movements appear in Mari Törőcsik, who was rendered a greatly admired woman by this Hungarian film. In fact, throughout the length of the film, so are the bedridden Lili Darvas’s face, beautiful eyes and gestures. It’s almost as if you can hear their voices in your head. And this strong and memorable impression doesn’t necessarily depend on the individual portrayals, but rather on the unique chemistry that exists between the two actresses. Alongside them is a third great actor, Iván Darvas, whose presence, without the use of any tools but is rendered no less powerful, draws the film to a close. The tight spaces and the sequences of quick montages in the scenes of ‘Love’, which take place in the mother’s flat or at neglected locations around Budapest during a particularly cold spring, create an utterly different, universally felt atmosphere in János Tóth’s cinematography.
In Déry’s Love, B. is deprived even of a name. In Makk’s Love, Iván Darvas portrays János. “Have I aged?” “I have aged”. It’s not even the story’s injustice that hurts but the fact that they’ve lost so much of their own life. It’s precisely because of the similarities to real life that Makk’s film hasn’t aged at all since its first screening. It’s about people; in this case the story is sometimes about how bringing someone back is desired and idealised, and sometimes it is about the currently unbreakable and threatening backdrop. The bottom line is people.
In 1971 Love brought home the Jury Prize from Cannes as well as the OCIC prize, the predecessor of the Ecumenical Jury. In 2000 it was selected as one of the New 12 Best of Budapest, which are the 12 best films in the Hungarian history of cinema so far. Following his success with Love, Károly Makk returned to the festival many times. Later on with Cats’ Play (1974), A Very Moral Night (1978), Another Way (1982, FIPRESCI Prize) and another Tibor Déry adaptation, The Last Manuscript (1987), was also in competition to receive a Palme d’Or. Just as Miklós Jancsó’s film The Round-Up last year, the completely restored 4K digital copy of Love is part of this year’s Cannes Classic programme. The digitalisation and renovation were carried out in the Focus-Fox Studio and the Hungarian Filmlab, with the application support of the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA), the cooperation of MaNDA and the initiative of the Hungarian National Film Fund.
Read all the articles of Hungarian Film Magazine Cannes 2016 issue, here: