Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Original Title: Édes Emma, drága Böbe – vázlatok, aktok
Alternate Title: Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe
Hungary/Germany, 1992. Mafilm Audio Kft., Manfred Durniok Filmproduktion, Objektív Film, Videovox Stúdió. Screenplay by István Szabó, Andrea Vészits. Cinematography by Lajos Koltai. Produced by Gabriella Grósz, Lajos Óvári. Music by Tibor Bornai, Mihály Móricz, Feró Nagy. Production Design by Attila Kovacs. Costume Design by Zsuzsa Stenger. Film Editing by Eszter Kovács.
Hungarian director Istvan Szabo charts the effect of the fallen Iron Curtain on his country’s citizens in this unsubtle but intelligent drama. Johanna ter Steege plays Budapest high school teacher Emma, who is threatened with redundancy thanks to there no longer being any need for her to teach Russian. While she and her roommate Böbe (Enikö Börcsök) are being reinvented as English teachers, Emma is dealing with a number of personal pressures in her life as well: her salary can’t cover the teacher’s lodgings that were built for people from the countryside who have come to the city to work, so she and Böbe have moved into a dingy hostel, and she takes work cleaning houses a few days a week to pull in some extra cash.
She’s also in love with her married supervisor, who she keeps wishing will divorce his wife and make an honest woman out of her once and for all, but the likelihood of this appears to be slim. Things really come crashing down when the secrets of how Böbe has been supplementing her own income come out and create a dire situation for them both, which Szabo wants the audience to know without any doubts whatsoever is the result of Hungary’s reckless enthusiasm for democracy, without care for the vulnerabilities involved in the process of change.
It’s not a movie without its effects, even as a lecture it comes across as astute and well thought through, but it’s also very short and we don’t get deep into any emotional feeling for the characters involved. Most damaging to the enjoyment is the casting of Dutch actress ter Steege in the lead: a fine actor who is perfectly suited physically to the part, she is badly matched with a dubbed speaking voice whose emotional performance doesn’t correspond what is happening on screen, cheapening the drama overall.
European Film Award: Best European Screenwriter
Nomination: Best European Actress (Johanna ter Steege)
Berlin Film Festival Award: Special Jury Prize
Toronto International Film Festival: 1992