Fascinating film by a most fascinating and prolific director. This and the other Diary films will certainly stand as milestones in the collection. To learn more about her and her films...and her marriage to Jancso check out this insightful interview with Andrew James Horton
Budapest, June 15, 1987
You turn to me with the request that I apply for the rehabiliation of my father, Imre Nagy, that I consent to the exhumation of his remains and his worthy reburial. I cannot meet your request. I shall explain why. The Hungarian revolution was crushed by a vastly superior force. The years of revenge followed by illegal trials and mass executions. Then silence...deadly silence...for over thirty years.
These are the words of Elizabeth Nagy, the daughter of former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, in the beginning voice over of Marta Meszaros' most recent film, The Unburied Dead. It is the story of Imre Nagy during the fateful years of '56-'58, the revolution, his exile, imprisonment, trial and ultimate execution. It is the story that Meszaros could tell only now when the silence can be broken. This deadly silence that she talks about loomed over her films and those of her former husband, Miklos Jancso, for thirty years (one of the first images in this latest film is a truckload of celluloid, film from Nagy's trial, being burned). It's the blank pause in a political discussion, the absence in a roster of names (no exact count of the executed exists), the blank space.
I remember twelve years ago, not long after the regime change, when my host at dinner perused the wine list and recounted that the one vintage always absent from any list, no matter the prestige of the restaurant, was 1956. But stories abounded about back rooms where known guests could order a '56 Tokay on October 23 and raise a teary-eyed toast. Stories also circulated of Party appartcheks ordering a '56 vintage in a crowded restaurant in order to mock that same revolution. Apocryphal? Perhaps it happened only once, in some isolated village? The mere existance of such stories stand as testimony to the crushing silence that followed this revolution, the great white elephant in the room that cast a dejected glance over subsequent literature, poems, song and of course cinema. Peter Timar in his 1997 film Csinibaba
which is set in 1961 depicts the dilemma of a radio announcer reading off the lottery numbers: "...12..." and unable to read the next number: '56', we see the perspiration collect on his brow, the panic.
Strangely, this silence was essentially domestic. Films that broke the two rules: do not portray the Soviet way of life as anything but utopian and do not approach the (counter-) revolution of '56, were able to be shown abroad, while domestic prints were usually impounded but viewed by select circles of censors (many of them genuine film buffs).
The Unburied Dead
is the film that Marta Meszaros had been building up to, containing the frustration and animosity that has collected in her over those many years, awaiting the freedom to express, the budget and an audience who can finally view those events not only for its national significance but as a legitimate historical event. Nagy's successor, Janos Kadar, who would hold power almost up until the very end of the socialist regime, is portrayed as a hypocrite using real film footage. This is a fairly bold move as Kadar has been largely forgiven for his role, the many years of 'goulash socialism' having lulled the populace. Many of the events depicted, when not drawn from primary sources, are based on presumption, at times her ambitions seem to exceed her ability to grasp such a massive undertaking, but throughout we can see the poignant portrayal of an idealist suffering for his beliefs building up and ultimately finding release in the final documentary ending: footage of Nagy's actual exhumation. The early VO continues:
My father and the other martyrs remain lying in unmarked graves because the holders of power are the same as those who sent them to their death, removed all traces and burnt the films and documents of the trials. I'd like to quote my father's last words:
"The only thing I'm frightened of is being rehabilitated by those who betrayed me."
I can't wait for these Diary films!