Márta Mészáros – Szabad lélegzet AKA Riddance (1973)

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Short Synopsis:

Jutka, a young woman who works in a factory, falls in love with Andras, a university student. She pretends to be a student, to him and to his parents, and begins to live a lie. Finally she rebels against Andras and his demands and the social conventions that forced her to live a lie.

NY Times Review, 1976 wrote:
There may no longer be easily recognizable social classes in Communist Hungary, but there remain class distinctions that can be as malignant as any under the old order.

“Riddance,” the 1973 Hungarian film directed by Marta Meszaros, is the rueful account of the love affair of a pretty, spirited young woman who works in a textile factory and a young university student whose parents are grossly more equal than other people. Having just emerged from the working class, his mother and father guard their bourgeois status not tenaciously, but primly, as if it were their bookcase full of fragile, unspeakably awful knickknacks.

“Riddance,” which was shown yesterday at the Second International Festival of Women’s Films at the Cinema Studio, will be repeated Monday at 6 P.M. and Tuesday at 8 P.M.

The film is the second by Miss Meszaros, whose “Adoption,” was one of the better selections shown this spring at the Museum of Modern Art’s New Directors/New Films series.

On the basis of these two films, Miss Meszaros is a director of real sensitivity with an affection for characters who pursue unpopular causes, including honesty, to lunatic lengths. Although the heroines in both films are women of fire backbone and wit, the movies themselves look deceptively austere. It’s not that the director is without humor, but rather that she prefers to let it surface so perfectly surrounded by unhappy circumstances that it’s easy to overlook. The humor has the effect of a joke remembered in tranquility. It’s lonely.

Thus, though “Riddance” is a serious film, it’s likely to seem more solemn than it actually is. In addition, Miss Meszaros’s characters don’t share happy or funny moments with the audience. When they occur, it’s as if they are simply meant to be a measure of the extent of some future loss. Miss Meszaros does not believe in leaving us laughing or crying, only, if possible, more thoughtful.

Erzsebet Kutvolgyi, as the young woman, a sort of Hungarian Alice Adams whose family doesn’t come up to the snobbish standards of her suitor’s, is pretty and lithe and as close to being funny as anything in the film. Gabor Nagy is good as the young man whose bourgeois affection and respect for his bourgeois parents are stronger than his love for the girl. A coincidence: Laszlo Szabo, who plays the young man’s father, is the director of the French film “Zig Zig,” which also opened yesterday.

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