Trailblazing auteur Márta Mészáros gives aching expression to the experiences of women in 1970s Hungary in this sensitive and absorbing drama, which became the first film directed by a woman to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Through intimate camera work, Adoption immerses the viewer in the worlds of two women, each searching for fulfillment: Kata (Katalin Berek), a middle-aged factory worker who wants to have a child with her married lover, and Anna (Gyöngyvér Vígh), a teenage ward of the state determined to emancipate herself in order to marry her boyfriend. The bond that forms between the two speaks quietly but powerfully to the social and political forces that shape women’s lives, as each navigates the realities of love, marriage, and motherhood in her quest for self-determination.
The Criterion Collection presents Márta Mészáros’ Adoption on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation has been sourced from a recent 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original negative.
This is an absolute knockout of a restoration and end presentation, with a lot of work clearly having gone into this. The restoration has cleaned the film up thoroughly leaving only some very minor blemishes behind, of which one really has to be looking for them. Film grain is rendered wonderfully, leading to a superb film-like texture that bring out the sharp details where the original photography allows.
Most impressive is probably the contrast and grayscale. The range in the grays can be surprising, helping the picture cleanly shift from a brighter light source (which, to be fair, can be more of a really light gray) to the shadows in the darker areas of the screen without the blacks coming out foggy or flat. Details are also still clear in several of the film’s darker sequences, the range in those darker grays still managing to look wide.
It really is a terrific looking image, all thanks to a thorough restoration and a clean looking digital encode.
The film is presented with a lossless 1.0 PCM soundtrack. There can be a bit of a flatness to everything, range and fidelity lacking, but sound quality is still excellent and there were no severe instances of damage.
For Mészáros’ debut into the collection Criterion uses the supplements to introduce the filmmaker to those unfamilar with her work. A new video essay by Catherine Portuges, entitled The World of Márta Mészáros, does a solid enough job of that all on its own. Running 20-minutes, Portuges' essay provides background around her upbringing, covering the events that almost certainly influenced her work and the recurring themes around displacement found within them (most impactful was her father’s execution at the hands of the Stalinist regime). She then talks about her marriage to filmmaker Miklós Jancsó (and I’ll just take this opportunity to plug Kino’s impressive set featuring some of his films) before moving on to cover some of her work, including her short film Blow-Ball (included on this disc) and then feature works like Adoption and her 1984 film Diary for My Children. The latter film was a political drama that played off of what happened with her parents and to the surprise of no one that film ended up being censored by the government at the time, not wanting to acknowledge past horrors.
I found it a concisely assembled essay and it leads wonderfully into the next feature, a 57-minute film about the director entitled Márta Mészáros – Portrait of the Hungarian Film Director, directed by Katja Raganelli. Criterion has also used her films for other releases, including Wanda and Merrily We Go to Hell, and like those offerings this one offers a very intimate portrait of the filmmaker, featuring interviews with her and filmed while she was making her 1979 feature On the Move. The conversations cover various topics that range from the personal, like her living in Budapest, to her films, which is where she talks about the subjects she wishes to portray, including relationships between women (she states that she feels its harder for women to make friends and she tries to capture this). She also talks about Adoption along with some of her other work. The documentary manages to also include some behind-the-scene footage from On the Move (featuring Delphine Seyrig), and Miklós Jancsó ends up popping up to talk about her work as well.
Criterion then includes a interview with Mészáros, filmed for the NFI in 2019. In it she recalls winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. She also talks a little about the reactions to the Adoption from Hungarian critics and covers a variety of other topics. It all ends up being a rather quick 9-minute montage of material. The disc next features the director’s 1965 short Blow-Ball. The film starts with a child wandering the streets, apparently heading to his father’s place. This simple journey ends up taking up almost half of the film's running time, as though this child purposely dragging the journey out. It becomes clear why this is may be the case when he finally reaches the destination: the child’s parents are divorced and his father’s new wife (or live-in girlfriend) finds him “ill-mannered” and doesn’t care for him, telling her husband when he's out of the room that she’d rather adopt some strange kid than ever consider taking him in. He then goes back home to his mother only to receive a similar level of disinterest from his her, possibly because she suspects he likes his stepmother more. It’s slowly paced yet gorgeously photographed, and the ending does end up being rather gut-wrenching. It’s a suiting inclusion since it offers a look at one of her earlier films delving into that theme of “displacement" that gets brought up through the other features on the disc.
The supplements then close with a new trailer for the restoration, while the included booklet (not just a fold-out insert surprisingly) features a new essay on the film by Elena Gorfinkel, who goes over the film’s story and characters, noting its style that the director labels as “pseudo-realism.”
The features don’t focus as much on the film as I would have probably liked, but the disc delivers a wonderful introduction to Mészáros’ work.
The features aren’t as focused on the film as much as I probably would have liked but Criterion's release offers up a fantastic introduction to Márta Mészáros’ work. it also doesn't hurt that the disc also sports a superb looking presentation for the film itself.