Love and Other Stories
It’s rare for a movie to find its inspiration in a short story, but such is the case with Szerelem (1971), inspired by two short stories, “Two Women” and “Love,” written by Tibor Dery, both collected in his book published by New Directions: Love and Other Stories. The stories don’t obviously go together, apart from a slight ache and loneliness left inside the reader, but the movie weaves the two in such a way that the combination, once made, becomes inevitable.
Szerelem (Love) is a Hungarian movie by Károly Makk. Its rhythm is slow and lilting; moments are spent on silence and small words between a newlywed (played by Mari Torcsik) and her aged mother-in-law (Lili Darvas, pictured on the cover of Love and Other Stories). The old woman is slow and methodical. Her thought process flashes across the screen as she reads a letter from her son––amplified imaginings of Eleanor Roosevelt, a feathered hat, a black cat, a keyhole, Victorian silhouettes of women.
The letter, however, is a fiction created by her daughter-in-law, resolutely trying to hide the fact that her husband, the mother’s son, had recently been captured by the police. The letters describe a larger-than-life account of his doings in America while on the set of a film:
“The first night of the film will be a month from today in a New York film theater that holds thirty thousand people. It is just being built on the outskirts of the city on top of a high mountain and has to be completed for the first night because they want to open it with my film. From the roof you can see half of America down to the Cordilleras and the Andes, not to speak of the Atlantic Ocean, which is just as blue here as the Adriatic at Abbazia, where we were together one summer….”
The letter goes on, and his mother laps the grand story up. The fiction is thin, however, and on her more lucid days she’s able to tell something isn’t right. The question then becomes how much she wants to know and how much she allows herself to question.
Large sections are taken verbatim from the stories, lending credence to the movie’s existence as a separate but worthy component. The movie takes the simplicity of the two stories, the silence and longing and compassion, without adding sentimentality or dramatics. The darker undertones are drawn out and explored––difficult times with the Hungarian police, the need to conform and what happens to those who don’t, the paranoia and worry that set in. Sometimes it’s hard to empathize with the daughter-in-law, other times it’s harder to empathize with the mother, but throughout it’s vastly clear that all they’re trying to do is survive, and whatever mechanisms in their lives that seem foreign to us–cushioned on a couch or in bed while watching the film or reading the stories–are their means of survival. When the second story enters the movie in the last twenty minutes, it’s with a mixture of sorrow and relief.
Posted by Kelsey Ford