Talking Pictures

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The Last Report on Anna / Utolsó Jelentés Annáról

Posted by keith1942 on April 4, 2011

Anna with Peter

Hungary 2009, Hunnia Filmstúdió. 103 minutes [apparently the version released in Hungary is shorter, only 90 minutes]. Colour, Hungarian with English subtitles.     Director: Márta Mészáros. 

Screened at the Bradford Interntional Film Festival, 2011.

Mészáros has had a long career in the Hungarian film industry. She started working on documentary in the 1950s and moved to features in 1968. She has made over two dozen features: though many have not been seen in the UK. Earlier films have won prizes at the Berlin and Cannes Film Festivals. She deals very powerfully with issues affecting women, but also shows a recurring concern with the troubled history of her country in the C20th. A series of semi-autobiographical films focused on the tragedy of the 1956 uprising. This new feature deals in part with that story.

Unfortunately instead of a 35mm print we viewed a version on Digibeta. The image quality was not particularly good and also variable in clarity: meanwhile the aspect ration, probably 1.78:1 showed signs of cropping and squeezing, [possibly down from 1.85:1:] this was especially noticeable in the frequent large close-ups. This rather limited my appreciation of what appeared to be some extremely well crafted sequences.

The film story connects actual history with fictional reconstruction. The female protagonist, Anna Kéthly (Enikö Eszeyi) is a figure from the historical record, a member of Imre Nagy’s government. The key male figure, Péter (Ernie Ferkete) is invented. In an opening sequence he confesses to a younger brother how he worked as a State Security informant in the 1970s. His task, in which he failed, was to inveigle the exiled Anna to return to Hungary. His tale revisits earlier traumatic times in Hungary’s history, and also the repressive regime of a Soviet satellite. But the prime focus is on exile and lost love; Péter is the nephew of Faragó (György Cserhalmi), Anna’s lover who remains in Hungary, [the younger version is also played by Ferkete].

The story opens in a café in 1991, a television is covering the withdrawal of Soviet troops as the Soviet Eastern Empire collapses. The younger brother is leaving for the United States, and Péter, fearful of the exposure that will follow on the collapse of the regime, confesses to his past.

He starts with his recruitment by the State Security. He worked as a Lecturer in Literature and the carrot that was dangled before him was a trip to Brussels to lecture on his main interest, the troubadours of Walloon. His preparation for the trip and his task enable to the film to briefly lay out the career of Anna, the first Social Democratic woman MP in Hungary, and a committed opponent first of 1930s fascism, and then of 1950s Soviet repression. When Péter leaves for Brussels he takes with him a box for Anna from his uncle Faragó. We later find that the box contains a coloured scarf and a small volume of poetry.

In Brussels Péter is briefed by his Embassy contact. She is a forceful and attractive woman who in a later scene leads Péter off by his tie, presumably to ‘have her way with him’. He visits Anna and despite her suspicions and the stronger ones of her sister Magda (Zsuzsa Czinkóczi), Anna develops a relationship with him. He clearly reminds her of Faragó, from whom she has been separated for over fifteen years. The separation followed on from the failure of the 1956 uprising. Anna has remained in the West first as a delegate at the United Nations, then as a key member of émigré opposition to the Soviet puppet regime.

The early scenes in Brussels are in a sunlit park, where hippies play and sing. This expresses the delight of Péter as he enjoys the unusual freedom of his position. However, increasingly the days are wet and windswept, as the darker aspects of the past resurface. Anna is torn not only because of her feelings for Faragó but also because of the separation from Poland. The subtitles [not always reliable] repeatedly refer to ‘emigrants’ in terms of Anna and her group. I assume this emphasised the separation they endured. And her last words to Péter are the wish that ‘she should be buried in Hungarian soil’.

One aspect of the plotting in Brussels is the evidence of Anna’s status as a critic of the Hungarian regime. A late scene shows her birthday celebration where telegrams with good wishes include one from the Belgium King. It is at this party that she learns that her old love Faragó has died. A related example is a visit from a woman in an expensive car with diplomatic plates. Golda, [it is in fact Golda Meir is an old friend from the United Nations. I found this slightly odd at first, given that Israel’s action in Palestine paralleled those of the Soviets in Hungary]. However, Anna points out in conversation that whilst she has lost a homeland Golda has achieved one. This points to the films major limitation, which is a lack of analysis of political positions. Mészáros tends to privilege the personal over the political. So all we learn of the 1930s fascists is their introduction of anti-Jewish laws. There is no real discussion of the politics of the Social Democrats or the Communists in Hungary. Likewise little is learnt about the émigrés: Péter mentor at the Embassy claims that the CIA at one point funded them, but this is not developed.

The personal continues with a parallel in the relationship and separation between Péter and his wife Kati (Gabriella Hámori). The reward for activities on behalf of the state means that she also obtains a passport and joins him in Brussels. However, she is appalled when she discovers his subterfuge and proposes that they stay in the west. Shortly after she leaves him and moves to Paris.

Poetry is important in the narrative. The small volume of poems exchanged between Anna and Faragó appears three times: [I assumed these were by an actual Hungarian poet]. A stanza of one poem is spoken several times: it acted as a signal between the lovers. But its metaphor of ‘tired legs’ seems also to refer to their situation of Anna.

The film ends once more in the coffee bar in 1991. Péter has now unburdened himself and his young brother leaves for his new life. Péter sits in the bar and raises his glass to an older woman at a nearby table. The same woman sat in the bar in 1971 when Péter had his first meeting with State Security. It provides a reassuring continuity amongst all the pain and separations. And she seems to have outlasted the departing Soviet military, once again seen leaving in the Television coverage.

In keeping with Mészáros earlier films the style is restrained, though she uses very large close-up very frequently to examine the characters and their emotions. The final shot of Anna is through rain and soft-focus as she walks in her garden. There is one emphatic overhead shot at the close of the flashback. The film also makes frequent use of old newsreels, which are generally well integrated. There are also recreations of ‘dour bygone Budapest’, though some of these were less than convincing, and seemed out of period.

I found it an absorbing film, which I should like to see in a good print. The travails of Soviet occupation across Eastern Europe have been covered in a number of films now. This has a parallel feeling to Margaret von Trotta’s The Promise (Das Versprechen, 1994).  Mészáros’ feature repeats a major theme of that film: that it is the woman who escapes the repression and that it is the man who stays behind and becomes a cog in the system.

In 2004 Mészáros’ film about Imre Nagy, A temetetlen halott (The Unburied Dead), was released, but does not appear to have been exhibited in the UK.


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