Márta Mészáros’s 1984 film Diary for My Children, in a restored version, is currently screening at Cannes Classics, but the director has come a long way to get here.
Márta Mészáros, the pioneering Hungarian filmmaker who will turn 90 in September, has always looked young for her age. When she wanted to study filmmaking in her home country in the late 1940s, she was told, “We don’t need anyone from kindergarten!” She was fluent in Russian, having lived in Russia for much of her childhood, so she moved to Moscow, where gender was at its peak.
“There weren’t that many female filmmakers in those days”, she tells. “That a woman wanted to have that career was a joke. All the men laughed at me.”
Mészáros laughed the last. She spent a decade making documentaries about the lives of ordinary people, such as teachers and factory workers and perfecting her dynamic visual style. In 1968, she became the first woman to direct a feature film in Hungary.
“The girl”, about a young woman trying to find her biological parents, is as radical and vivacious as anything from the new French or Czech waves. It begins with the camera moving along a line of women practicing archery. In her persistent curiosity about each one of them, she seems to ask: What do they want? How are they going to get it? And how will society (the men, in general, who swarm ominously around women in so many of his films) try to thwart them?
Her feature films, which have attracted artists such as Isabelle Huppert, Anna Karina, and Delphine Seyrig, retain the immediacy of her early documentaries.
Mészáros has been staggeringly prolific, making roughly one movie a year through the late 1990s, with no mundane setting between them. Somehow, she also landed several marriages, including one to another groundbreaking Hungarian director, Miklós Jancsó, who made “The Round-Up”. (Some of her films have been shot by her son, cinematographer Nyika Jancsó.)
In 1975, she became the first female director to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival. Her topic was controversial: A woman in her 40s longs for a baby from her married lover but doesn’t want him to leave his wife.
The third major phase of the director’s career was the 1980s, when the Diary trilogy was produced, “Diary for My Children” (1983), “Diary for My Lovers” (1987), “Diary for My Father, My Mother” (1990). Also made during this period was the fairy tale film “Little Red Riding Hood “(1988). In “The Fetus” (1993), she returned to the depiction of the specific problems of women’s lives.
Although Diario’s autobiographical films – starting with “Diary of My Children”, for which he received the Special Grand Jury Prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival -, she was never able to address the subject as explicitly as he would have liked. The death of her father, a sculptor killed in the Stalinist purges, was outside the limits of a regime that did not tolerate criticism.
“I wanted to show in a political drama what happened to my parents because of the Soviet Union: my father was executed and my mother died of a broken heart. They shouldn’t have died that way. It was the censorship that prevented me from addressing that directly. “
Márta Mészáros has made more than fifty films and said she would rather make films on her ninetieth birthday.