Adoption (Örökbefogadás, Hungary 1975)

This title was screened in the Berlinale Classics programme and marked the return of a film that was the Golden Bear winner in 1975. It was also the film that established its director, Márta Mészáros, as a internationally recognised film-maker.

A widowed working woman in her early forties would like to escape the emptiness that surrounds her by having a child with her married lover, to whom she is attached only as a matter of habit. . . . One day, a girl who has run away from a home seeks shelter with her.”

The home is a state orphanage. The girl, Anna (Gyöngyvér Vigh), is in her late teens and already involved in a sexual relationship. The older woman, Kata (Katalin Berek), works in a factory but also has an interest in wood work, which she does in a small workshop at home. Her home is near a small town but separated from other houses and Kata is also separate from the other residents. The orphanage is very free in its control of the young people. This seems to be, in part, because it is under-resourced. But the manager does seem fairly sympathetic. This culture enables the young inmates to indulge in activities outside the home, so Anna regularly meets her boyfriend, Sanyi (Péter Fried) who lives and works in a nearby city and travels down to meet Anna.

The films gives a sense of these characters and the operation of the home when we see Kata, returning from work. Anna, in a group of teenage girls, teasingly confronting Kata begging cigarettes. And we also get a sense of Kara’s relationship with Jóska (László Szabó) at a tryst, he is clearly less involved than Kata. In a later scene in a park he is definitely troubled when Kata raises the issue of children. Even later he takes Kata home on the pretext of her being a colleague from work. His wife seems unsuspecting whilst there is also a young child in the family. Jóska is obviously a male chauvinist and that is his role in the narrative. But the much younger Sanyi displays a strong affection and responsibility for Anna. Whilst the manager at the home is seen later showing both sympathy and practical assistance to Kata and Anna.

We only get a representation of the Hungarian state at this time at a remove, but the sense is of a rather underfunded and inadequate bureaucracy rather than the stereotypical representation found in western films at the period.

The film has fine black and white cinematography by Lajos Koltai. Mészáros uses frequent long takes, not just for action but also for contemplation. Several times we see Kata at her work table and the sense of her ruminations on her situation. The film editing by Éva Kármentõ carefully juxtaposes the several repeated settings; Kara’s house, the orphanage and the places where Kata and Jósha have their trysts. There is much location work but production design by Tamás Banovich marries studio set-ups with the natural settings. And by the end of the film we see a traditional celebration with a convincing sense of ordinary people enjoying an occasion. The film sound and music by György Kovács fits in with a general naturalistic feel.

Mészáros scripted the film with two colleagues, Ferenc Grunwalsky and Gyula Hernádi. The writing both presents characterisations that seem taken from life; that are unconventional in terms of the European cinema of the time; and which develop with a real sympathy for ordinary people and everyday life.

In 1975 the ‘Berliner Morgen post’ commented;

The Hungarian director, a woman, has come up, not with a drama but a low-key reticent everyday story that is full of tenderness and hope. In a succession of filmed-to-the-life occasions, Kati Berek makes her mark as a sort of Budapest Annie Giradot. Quiet, strong and true.” (Giradot is a fine French actress who at this stage of her career had graced Rocco and his Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli, 1960) with an outstanding performance).

The paper’s note of the director being a ‘woman’, picked up on the Mészáros being the first woman director to win a Golden Bear Award. And she and the film won a number of other awards as well. Márta Mészáros was there to introduce the film. She spoke with emotion of her memories of the visit to the Berlinale, she was then an unknown in western Europe and this her first experience of a major festival and major awards.

There was also a staff member of the Hungarian Film Fund Film Archive who have produced the digital restoration of the film onto a 4K DCP, with English subtitles. The restoration was based on the original camera negative and a magnetic tape of sound. This was supervised by the original cinematographer, Lajos Koltai. The restoration differs in an important manner from the original 35mm. Mészáros had wanted to shoot the film in a scope format but was unable to do so and the film used the academy ratio. This restored version has been produced in 1.85:1; closer to the desired scope format. In other ways it reproduces the original. The change of ratio is unusual. The Berlinale staff were unsure but thought the version at the Festival might have been in 1.85:1 as well. This presumably would have involved plates or masks in the projector. I think when I saw the film, long ago, it was in academy. I have to say that in 1.85:1 there was no obvious cropping of the image. We did not hear the technical description of how the reframing was achieved.

The archive have actually restored ten other titles directed by Mészáros between 1969 and 1999, including the famous ‘Diary’ series. They have all been restored digitally at 4K and will be available this year and in 2020. Given Mészáros’ status,

together with her contemporaries Agnès Varda, Larissa Shepitko and Vera Chytilova, she ranks as one of the most significant female authors in the world.” (Restored Films of Márta Mészáros, Hungarian Film Fund).

We should expect this title and the other titles that follow to get a British release. This film was a deserved winner of the Golden Bear in 1975 and has maintained its quality and relevance; Mészáros’ other films equally offer both quality and satisfaction.


  1. Roy Stafford

    Adoption has been showing on MUBI in what appears to a 1.85:1 ratio. MUBI mentions a link to Watershed’s ‘Rediscovered’ Film Festival. I liked the film a great deal. I agree with all of the above and would only add that I found the use of music to be very effective in a low-key way and that I was struck by the different camera styles used – documentary montage for the factory and observational documentary style for the wedding. Kata’s interaction with other characters is sometimes in LS/MLS and sometimes in big close-ups.

    I hope more of Mészáros’ films do become available.


  2. keith1942

    It appears that MUBI are using the Hungarian Archive restoration. I am curious as to what standard MUBI offer as it is a streaming service and I believe most of these are lower than [for example] Blu-ray.
    The Watershed ‘Cinema Rediscovered’ seems to be a distribution network as well as a Festival. However, it is not listed in the Film Distributors Association listings. The Watershed Web Pages only show ‘Adoption’ and I could not find any of the other Mészáros’ titles in the FDA list. This suggests we are going to miss out in Britain – once more!
    At least this title, in the Watershed version, is screening at the Hyde Park Picture House on Tuesday September 3rd.


    • Roy Stafford

      Cinema Rediscovered is not a distributor but an annual festival that then tours selected restored prints. This year there are two. Bresson’s Une femme douce and Adoption.

      A quick answer on your MUBI query. MUBI streams most of its films in High Definition (1080p Full HD) which is at least the quality of Blu-ray. Reception depends on your device and your broadband speed/bandwith. MUBI recommends selecting 720p HD or even ‘Standard Digital’) if users have problems with the stream. I’ve got one of the best broadband services available and have never experienced any problems. I’ve found that the quality of the original prints can vary but only a few and then not significantly. If a print is advertised on MUBI as HD it looks very good on both my computer and TV set.

      I think a whole new ecology of distribution and exhibition is developing very quickly and we should try to log changes taking place.


  3. keith1942

    Thank you Roy for the information on MUBI.
    I understand that ‘Cinema Rediscovered’ is strictly speaking not a ‘distributor’ but they are clealry distributing titles. I am curious as to where Roy obtained the information. I have searched several times to try and find what the project offers and how? I wondered if they are using the Film Hub network?
    Some time ago both Roy and I commented on a series of titles distributed by the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. What was clear was that only a few of the titles were at a theatrical standard; there was a 35mm print, theatrical DCPs and DCP’s with video uploaded.
    I note Roy refers to ‘a new ecology’ of distribution and exhibition. One of its characteristics, which readers will recognise as a regular complaint by myself, is that much of this avoids distinguishing between theatrical and non-theatrical material. If punters want to watch titles on non-theatrical formats, [often all they can access], fine. But I tend to think that quite a few distributors and exhibitors avoid such distinctions because they are aware of the differences in quality and avoid drawing attention to that.


    • Roy Stafford

      The details of the Cinema Rediscovered Tour can be found here. Touring festivals have been around for a long time. This practice has not usually been seen as ‘distribution’ in the industrial sense because there is no general ‘right’ to show the film which could cover any cinema. Instead it is an agreement between the rights-holder and the festival organiser and the limited number of cinemas associated with the tour. Festivals and seasons are very difficult to put together and the quality of prints which finally appear from reputable sources can be very variable. Often the festival only discovers a problem (e.g. a foreign language film with no subtitles) at the last minute when a film arrives. Digital prints have not made this any easier.


  4. keith1942

    Thanks for the link Roy. The ‘touring festivals vary as to where they go.
    Leeds does not get many. I have, though, seen a number of screenings from the Japan Film Foundation. They are connected with the Japanese archive which ensures some standards.
    I am less sure regarding some of the other tours. I note that ‘Cinema Rediscovered work with Park Circus; a company who do not, I think, always have proper quality control.
    The other aspect is that the Hungarian Film Archive have actually restored some dozen films by Márta Mészáros. If we have this single title from Bristol it would seem that a proper distributor is not picking up this or other titles. So we will miss out – again.


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