The power of memory—and the power of imagination to distort memory—are the concerns of Lovefilm (Szerelmesfilm), Hungarian director István Szabó's early film from 1970. Before he made his international reputation with important works with historical and political interest, such as Mephisto and Colonel Redl, Szabó made personal, New Wavey movies about memory and regret. Lovefilm is an early masterpiece that we are happy to have available on DVD,.
The story, written by Szabó, concerns Jansci (András Bálint, Szabó's version of Truffaut's Jean-Pierre Léaud), who is taking a train trip to Paris to meet an old girlfriend, Kata (Judit Halász). Soon after he leaves his perfectly serviceable brunette girlfriend at the station, we realize that Kata, a blond horsewoman, is more than just a girlfriend. He has known and loved her his whole life. In a series of unordered flashbacks, Jansci recalls the war years, the time Kata told him his father was dead, how their friendship evolved into a romance, and how the events of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 torn them apart. She fled to Paris, and he stayed behind. After numerous memories of the past have flooded over him, some repeated with variations, reflecting the imagination's tendency to modify memories, Jansci finally meets up with Kata, only to find that a decade is too long to re-ignite a romance. In a coda, we learn that Jansci has rerurned and married his life-filled brunette, and Kata has married an Englishman. In a deeply poignant climax, Jansci finds himself trying to write her a letter, in a Budapest post office filled with people trying to do the same thing.
Szabó admits a profound influence by Alain Resnais, and the influence here of Last Year at Marienbad and Je T'aime, Je T'aime are obvious, especially in chapter 12 ("At the Sea") in which Jansci's memories of Kata at the beach—her body reduced to its parts, basking in the sun—alternate in an almost musical fashion with other recollections of his childhood, some of which aren't even fully in focus. The poignancy of the film is moving, but Lovefilm is a little too long, and fails to make us feel completely sympathetic with either Jansci or Kata. Nevertheless, Lovefilm is a masterly work of cinema.
VIDEO: Kino offers a Lovefilm in a mostly excellent color transfer, with only the occasional little nick or scratch, generally at reel changes. The widescreen transfer (1.66:1) shows the results of cinematographer János Gonda's experiments with color, shifting from the dour streets of wartime Budapest, to the pristine sunnyness of the beach, to the overbright pastels of Kata's Paris apartment. At the end, Kata herself is overexposed into invisibility, as if thinking about her too much makes her disappear. This was Szabó's first color film, at a time when most European directors were making sometimes difficult transitions to the format, and Szabó and Gonda show a sure hand.
SOUND: What seems to be a Dolby Digital two channel mono track (the box doesn't say, but the "display" mode says DD) is adequate (the film is dubbed); it's a frequently musical film, and that aspect of the film suffers from the more primitive presentation.
MENUS: A static, silent menu offers 15 chapter scene selection for the 123 minute movie.
PACKAGING: A keep case also contains a one sheet chapter guide. The packaging utilizes stills from the film for illustrations.
EXTRAS: Zero supplements.
Final Thoughts: Lovefilm is a challenging, difficult—but important—work, a blend of Eastern European seriousness and New Wave experimentation. Kino is to be commended for bringing a hard to find Eastern European film to DVD.