B&W, 1971, 88 mins. 55 secs.
Directed by Károly Makk
Starring Lili Darvas, Mari Törőcsik, Iván Darvas
Second Run (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL)
/ WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
One of Hungary's biggest critical successes of the '70s came early with Love (Szerelem) from filmmaker Károly Makk, which took home three prizes at Cannes in 1971 (including the Jury Prize) and earned a subtitled theatrical release over the next two years in most major Western territories. However, in subsequent decades it was harder to track down apart from occasional video editions like a VHS from Connoisseur in the U.S. and a 2005 DVD from Second Run in the U.K. In 2022, Second Run finally upgraded it to Blu-ray with a sterling new edition from a 4K restoration by the Hungarian Film Archive's National Film Institute, now looking better than it likely has since its opening night.
When her husband (Iván Darvas) is taken away as a political prisoner by the secret police, Luca (Mari Törőcsik) is left living with and taking care of his ailing elderly mother (Lili Darvas). With only one year of his ten-year sentence served, Luca clings to the hope that her husband is still alive and determines to make his mother's final days as bearable as possible by saying he's off in America working on a film. Eventually the truth about his whereabouts comes to light, putting Luca's emotions and commitment to a deeply intense test.
Impeccably shot and acted, Love is essentially a three-character chamber piece despite the occasional supporting actor popping up. What's remarkable is how much intensity it generates without any showy techniques or acting pyrotechnics, instead using gestures and expressions to build up the stress of how much the separation and dedication of the characters can transcend physical space.
The Second Run Blu-ray offers an exceptional showcase for this film following its 2016 film restoration, and the a/v presentation here is impeccable. The Hungarian LPCM 2.0 mono track is in mint condition (with optional English subtitles, improved since the DVD), and the clarity and black levels here are terrific. Ported over from the DVD is "Károly Makk on Love" (20m11s) with the filmmaker looking back at the height of oppressive terror in the early '60s that inspired the story, as well as the evolution of the story that began as a pair of short stories (Love and Two Women) by Tibor Déry. An audio commentary with Makk and professor Gábor Gelencsér, in Hungarian with English subtitles, goes further into the process of making the film including the rise of its status in the Hungarian cinema canon, the process of fusing two stories together, the decade-long process of getting the project off the ground, the casting process, and the universal nature of the story despite its topical setting. "Love Returns to Cannes" (12m27s) features Makk doing an onstage Q&A and a hotel room interview for the film's restoration premiere in 2016, while a 1971 archival newsreel (3m9s) showcases Hungarian film week in Sorrento. Also included are the original 1971 and 2016 reissue trailers, plus a 20-page booklet featuring essays by Graeme Hobbs and Agnes Sajti.
Reviewed on October 22, 2022