Cinema and Media Studies Márta Mészáros
by
Constantin Parvulescu, Laszlo Strausz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0203

Introduction

Márta Mészáros is a woman auteur with a coherent and widely appreciated body of work. She was the first Hungarian woman to make a feature film in 1968, and her best-known projects, The Girl (1968), Riddance (1973), Adoption (1975), Nine Months (1976), Diary for My Children (1982), and The Foetus (1993), won major film awards (Cannes, Berlin, Chicago, and Venice) and were greeted with enthusiasm by the international press. Though she rejected the label of feminist filmmaker, the Western reception of her films focused on the women’s topics they addressed, on their political intervention, and on their ecriture feminine. More recently, her work has been valued for its nuanced approach to Eastern European socialism. Mészáros is insightfully portrayed by Catherine Portuges as a cineast who “consistently addressed the intersections of state ideology, sexuality and everyday life” and the “charged intersections of gender and nationality” (Portuges 2004, cited under Individual Films, p. 191). Márta Mészáros was born in Hungary in 1931 in a family of leftist visual artists who moved to the Soviet Union in 1933 and lived in its Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Her father was murdered during Stalin’s Great Terror, and her widowed mother died soon afterward. She grew up in a Soviet orphanage and returned to Budapest after the end of World War II, being adopted by a Hungarian party activist. Mészáros studied filmmaking in the Soviet Union and, once back in Hungary, started a career in documentary filmmaking. In 1960, she married acclaimed Hungarian filmmaker Miklós Jancsó. Her first feature film, The Girl, came out in 1968, and she made her best films in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. She has been active for over fifty years and is still shooting films in Budapest. Mészáros’ four Diary films represent autobiographical cinematic engagements with her life until 1960.

Book-Length Studies

Though until the end of the 1990s, each of Mészáros’ films received considerable international attention, there is only one monograph dedicated to her work in English, Portuges 1993. It synthesizes Mészáros’ contribution to women’s cinema, her individual voice, and her sophisticated approach to socialism.

  • Portuges, Catherine. Screen Memories: The Hungarian Cinema of Márta Mészáros. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

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    Discusses the features Mészáros shot during socialism. Explores them from a feminist perspective, providing detailed analyses. It insightfully links the filmmaker’s work and life experiences, and reveals how Mészáros uses the cinema as an instrument of memory for processing the experience of being a woman during socialism.

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