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November 06, 2018

Denver Film Festival - Aurora Borealis

aurora borealis.jpg

Aurora Borealis: Eszaki Fenyl
Marta Meszaros - 2017
Vertigo Media

With all the chatter about female directors, the name of Marta Meszaros should be better known. The Hungarian filmmaker made her first short film in 1954, and her first feature in 1965. Her most recent film demonstrates that at age 86, she could still show the kids a thing or two about how to make a movie. That Meszaros has worked steadily in a country that was under Soviet rule, remained during the attempted revolution of 1956, and continued through various government changes is a testament to her ability to survive professionally. One of screenwriters is Meszaros' son, Zoltan Jansco. I am assuming there may be more than a shared family name with the lead role of Maria played by Mari Toroscik, with the younger version portrayed by Franciska Toroscik. Meszaros' grandson, Jakob Ladanyi, also has a supporting role.

Maria, an elderly Hungarian woman, receives a letter from Russia. The information is enough to cause shock, sending her to be hospitalized. Her daughter, Olga, a Viennese banker, goes to Hungary to look after Maria. The Russian letter brings up questions that Maria initially refuses to answer. The narrative switches between present day Austria and Hungary, and the years of 1953-45, when Soviet troops occupied Hungary and maintained a zone in part of post World War II Vienna. Alternating with Maria's story is Olga's trying to understand more of her mother's unstated past, and the consequences of learning more about her mother and herself.

One of Maria's memories is of being raped by several Soviet soldiers, caught while trying to escape Hungary. Without being glib, the scene serves both a dramatic purpose as well as certainly representing for Meszaros the treatment of Hungary and its citizens during that era. Maria opens up, bit by bit, with repressed memories as well as guilt connected with actions taken in order to survive. The questions regarding memories and guilt would also extend to countries that have been more open about aspects of their history, parts unknown, ignored or forgotten.

Meszaros chooses to be discrete in how she shows the more brutal parts of Maria's life. Flashbacks of Maria and her fiancé, Akos, in a hot spring are lyrical, perhaps more so as part of a romanticized memory. The rural Hungarian town that the present day Maria lives in has a pastoral charm. For most of the film, it is women who offer the most substantial assistance for young Maria in Vienna. Without being directly autobiographical, there are hints of Meszaros own life in Aurora Borealis.

The Calvert Journal offers a good overview of Marta Meszaros' life and career.

Aurora Borealis does not have US distribution at this time. Festival viewing is a must for this moving film.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 6, 2018 08:33 AM