- Director:István Szabó
- Cast:Károly Eperjes, Martina Gedeck, Helen Mirren
- Release Date:July 19, 2012
- Running time:98 minutes
- Film Worth:$17.00
- FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
An absorbing and complex character drama, but one that’s difficult to connect to at times.
Hungary's most famous director, Istvan Szabo, is 74 and hasn't released a film for six years, so fans will appreciate the chance to see what the great man can still do. His 1981 masterwork, Mephisto, won an Oscar and brought the extraordinary actor, Klaus Maria Brandauer, to international attention. This new one also reflects Szabo's main concerns of power games and charismatic personalities and, once again, is built around a central commanding performance, this time by Dame Helen Mirren.
The film occupies that uneasy space between a domestic drama and a psychological thriller. It centres on a well to do Hungarian couple: Magda (Martina Gedeck), a middle aged novelist, and her husband, Tibor (Karoly Eperjes). Living in the little cottage down the road is Emerenc (Mirren), an irascible old servant woman who scares the locals with her combination of creepy prescience and interpersonal rudeness. She becomes a housekeeper for Magda and Tibor, and soon proceeds to psychologically dominate them. In particular, Emerenc plays increasingly complex mind games with Magda, whilst the decent but ineffectual Tibor veers between sympathy for the housekeeper and incomprehension.
The film is never less than watchable, but there are problems in the basic set up, as well as a few jarring moments of unearned sentimentality. A lot depends on one's reaction to the Emerenc character. Mirren jumps into the role boots and all, and she gives, as usual, a truthful and skilful performance. It is the most unsympathetic character that she has played in a long time. The problem is that Emerenc - with her blunt, uncalled-for judgments - comes across as cruel and bitter rather than noble, let alone potentially loveable. Characters don't have to be likeable to win our admiration, but here, it is sometimes too hard for us to get past Emerenc's wintery exterior, just as it is for her outmanoeuvred employers.