There is no escaping the fact that
Örökbefogadás (Adoption), the 1975
Hungarian film from acclaimed director Márta Mészáros, is a bleak feature, but
what that doesn't mean is that there aren't small moments of monumental
triumph scattered throughout the picture. The world presented in this film is a
cold one, a grayscale universe that seems to be devoid of warmth and emotion.
From a Western perspective, the film is all at once evocative of the type of
Communist bloc lifestyle we had come to expect from a populace subjugated by
Soviet influence (although
was one of the most liberal
Soviet-bloc countries, in terms of economic and cultural policies.) Still,
Mészáros's film serves as a blatant indictment of a system in entropic freefall,
as individual responsibilities are surrendered to the state.
Katalin Berek plays Kata, a forty-something widow
who is longing to have a child. She works at a picture-frame factory and lives a
financially secure lifestyle, and has been having a longtime affair with a
married man. She longs to have a baby, and while she is medically sound, her
partner refuses to indulge her desire. Meanwhile, she begins a friendship with
Anna, a teenage girl who lives at a local woman's shelter. Anna's life is no
picnic; she has been neglected by her parents for being too wild, allegedly
sleeping around with all sorts of men and what-not, and the government has taken
responsibility for her well-being by placing her to live in this home. Anna asks
Kata if she can use one of her spare bedrooms in order to have a place to
sleep with her boyfriend. Soon the two develop a close bond. Their relationship
is somewhat touch-and-go at first, but their emotional catharses seem to
parallel each other. While Kata's maternal yearnings can be seen as a searing
emotional shriek of light in the midst of dark silence, Anna is struggling
against hopelessness and despair in an environment that seems to not care about
her one way or another.
Adoption is a
staggeringly good film. Everything, including the direction, acting,
script, cinematography, and orchestral score, hits all of the right notes. The
film's emotional resonance, its poignancy and heartbreak, and its refusal to
paint a happy ending over a world brimming with cruelty add a level of emotional
veracity to the story. That's not to say that Adoption is
unrelentingly grim; the film's ending, depending on how you look it, either
invalidates the entire developed emotional investment of the viewer, or
reaffirms a central message of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Either way, Mészáros doesn't pull any punches; neither does this film. This is a
powerful and emotionally devastating piece of work.
Adoption is presented in its original
full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The black-and-white transfer looks very
agreeable, especially for a thirty-year-old Hungarian catalog title which isn't
exactly in the highest of demand. The image is soft, almost filtered, but not
entirely without detail. There is some minor but noticeable speckling and
artifacts throughout the print, a bit of shimmering and line noise, and some
only occasional compression noise is visible. Still, despite these drawbacks the
transfer is mostly solid and enjoyable.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack. There's
nothing too much to report here, other than dialog is clean and respectable,
free of hiss and distortion, and well delivered. Volume levels seemed a tad bit
on the low side, but overall this is a serviceable soundtrack.
There are no extras on this disc.
A rich and
emotionally powerful work from start to finish, Adoption is one of the most fiercely humanistic
films I've ever watched. With flourishes that are reminiscent of Italian
neorealist cinema, Márta Mészáros's film is an incredible work. Although I can't
say that I've seen all (or even most) of the sixty films she has
directed since 1954, I would venture a guess that Adoption ranks as one of her finest. Although the
DVD is utterly bare-bones and the transfer, while certainly good enough, isn't
quite as sharp as one would hope, I still can give this disc a hearty
Recommendation based on the quality of the film itself. Those who consider
themselves true fans of world cinema owe it to themselves to give Adoption their time and attention.