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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Adoption
Adoption
Kino // Unrated // August 3, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted November 4, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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The Movie

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 Hungary 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.

The DVD

Video:

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.

Audio:

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.

Extras:

There are no extras on this disc.

Final Thoughts

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.

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