From the East to Madrid

Márta Mészáros

There were no female students at the Hungarian film academy when Márta Mészáros—still in her teens in the late 1940s—hoped to study there. She was turned away. So she enrolled at the State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow. When she returned to Hungary in 1956, the prestige of having graduated from such a venerable institution opened a few doors. A little.

Mészáros spent a few years making short documentaries, and by the time she completed her first fiction feature, The Girl (1968), her husband, Miklós Jancsó, had made The Round-Up (1965) and The Red and the White (1967). As Elena Gorfinkel notes in the essay that accompanies our release of Mészáros’s Adoption (1975)—the first film directed by a woman to win the Golden Bear in Berlin—Mészáros, who turned ninety-one in September, remembers that when she was making her first films, “observers on her sets would condescendingly reassure her that she needn’t worry herself too much about the film shoot, as Jancsó would soon arrive to ‘help her.’”

But even as she asserted her independence and proved her competence and artistry, and “even as her films persistently foregrounded resolute and autonomous women,” writes Gorfinkel, Mészáros “bristled at being identified as a feminist. Her ambivalent attitude must be seen as a skepticism shared by many women from the Eastern Bloc, who saw feminism as a Western conception and experienced in state socialism’s false promises of gender equality the continuation of a double standard, in demanding women’s labor in the workplace and public spheres yet the maintenance of the status quo in the reproductive and domestic ones.”

Czech director Věra Chytilová, too, rejected the feminist label. She was the only woman in her class at FAMU, the film school in Prague, where she studied alongside such future fellow New Wave directors as Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, and Jan Němec. Daisies (1966), the Chytilová film that has made the deepest impact on cinema culture, “has only recently been properly recognized as, perhaps first and foremost, a blistering takedown of patriarchal entitlement,” writes Carmen Gray.

Films by Mészáros and Chytilová as well as works by Ukrainian director Kira Muratova, Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi, Evelyn Schmidt (known primarily for the films she made in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall), Bulgarian director Binka Zhelyaskova, and others are screening in Madrid through January as part of From the East: Women Filmmakers and the Iron Curtain (1943–1993), a series of eighteen features and eighteen short films copresented by the Filmoteca Española-Cine Doré and the Museo Reina Sofia.

“Encompassing a kaleidoscopic range of approaches—from absurdist satire to the formal adventurousness of the avant-garde—this series proves that filmmaking has long been an expression of survival and resilience,” writes curator Dorota Lech in her introduction. “These films not only provide glimpses into the lives of everyday women during this era, they also show the creative worlds women filmmakers inhabited, underscoring the audacity and sheer talent of creators who persevered in bringing their visions to life in the face of innumerable visible and invisible hurdles.”

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

You have no items in your shopping cart