This is a Hungarian film, with English subtitles.
Regular readers know that many of my favourite films are in the genre known as World Cinema. Mostly independent productions, in the original language, watched with subtitles. I am aware that many of you do not enjoy watching such films, but they will continue to appear on this blog.
I read a glowing review of this film, but was unable to find it showing in any cinema in London at the time. I was lucky enough to be able to buy it on VHS tape, around a year after release. Thirty-five years later, and I have never forgotten it.
Set during the height of the Cold War, in 1958, this is a love story with a difference. Despite the Hungarian setting, it stars two Polish actresses, the gorgeous Grażyna Szapołowska, and the gamine Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak. Told in flashback, it examines the relationship of Livia, the journalist wife of an army officer, and Eva, a young lesbian woman who works at the same newspaper office.
Livia soon notices that Eva is attracted to her. She is initially disconcerted by the girl’s attentions, but cannot deny that she also feels something. Her marriage is stale and unhappy, with life little more than boredom and routine. The vivacious Eva offers an escape, with the element of the danger that comes from a relationship which would not be acceptable in Communist Hungary at the time. She eventually accepts Eva’s request to join her for a drink after work, and realises that she is in love with the unusual young woman.
They are later discovered by Policemen, when kissing on a park bench. Eva is known to the authorities, and arrested. Livia is warned that her husband will be informed if she is found in a compromising situation again, and Eva is later released with a warning that she is being watched. For some time, Livia avoids the girl, fearful of the consequences, and Eva finds that her work at the newspaper is being undermined, and her articles are refused publication by the government.
But Livia cannot deny her love for Eva, and they embark on a passionate affair, going away to the countryside together, where they are briefly accepted as a couple, and enjoy some happiness. This is short-lived, when Livia’s husband is told about the affair, leaving Eva to try to escape the regime by crossing the border. As often in real life, it doesn’t end well for all of those involved.
Despite the overtly lesbian theme, and some brief nudity, this is not a salacious story, in any respect. It is a genuine love story, and an interesting romance, with an historical setting that adds tension and contemporary views about two women having a love affair. It is a well-made film too, with muted colours highlighting the mood, and close-ups revealing deep emotions. The acting from the two women in the lead roles is just sublime. Jankowska-Cieslak won Best Actress at Cannes for her role as Eva, and Szapolowska conveys the turbulent emotions of a straight woman falling in love with a girl to perfection.
This is a love story to cherish, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.