A Woman Captured

 

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A largely overlooked documentary of exceptional interest.

 
Woman Captured, A

  

Although not a title that is widely known, this is one of the most remarkable documentaries of recent years. One of very few films to reach us from Hungary these days, A Woman Captured is essentially the work of one woman, Bernadett Tuza-Ritter. She is the director, the photographer, the editor, the executive producer and also the writer (a credit that is somewhat vague as to its actual meaning when it comes to documentaries like this one presented without any spoken commentary). In addition to all that, she is an actual presence in the film albeit one never seen but frequently heard in conversation with the woman who goes by the name of Marish and who is the key figure in this work.

 

A Woman Captured is an astonishing piece which will lodge itself in the memory of every viewer and the fact that it came to be made is remarkable in itself given the circumstances inherent in its subject matter. It came about due to Tuza-Ritter learning of the situation in which Marish had found herself for some ten years, one in which she lived in the home of a woman named Eta and worked for her as a domestic servant while also employed for twelve hours a day in a local factory. Such a life would have been a tough one in any event, but what made it extraordinary was the fact that Eta treated Marish as a modern-day slave. Intimidated by her, Marish was compelled to hand over all her earnings in return for lodging, food and cigarettes and was required to wait on Eta, her sons and her grandchildren seven days a week. This was enforced so rigidly that she was denied any freedom and was not even able to visit her youngest daughter who was then living not far away. In view of all that, one would have expected Eta to oppose any filming in her house. Luckily on receiving a money payment she let Tuza-Ritter in albeit insisting that her own face should not be shown.

 

Once the filming got going Marish and the filmmaker created a bond so that in time what was shot extended to footage in which, unbeknown to Eta, Marish gradually came to confide regarding her past history and her wish to escape from the household despite her conviction that friendly help outside would be difficult to find and that Eta would pursue her. From the start Marish is the key figure and her extraordinary face, worn and wrinkled, is that of a 52-year-old woman who looks at least twenty years older. She is a compelling presence. We hear also of two other put-upon servants in the same house, but the details about them and the various members of Eta's family are left somewhat vague. That hardly matters, however, since the film makes us feel that we are sharing Marish's existence and we become totally caught up in it and in her hope of getting away. 

 

Initially our own amazement that Marish could ever have come to accept this situation may be a bit of a distraction but, once the bond with the filmmaker develops and fuller details of Marish's past life emerge, we come to understand how it all became possible. It is helpful too that the film should include comments that help to settle any doubts we may have over what could seem an invasion of Marish's privacy and over the issue of Eta being paid to allow the filmmaker access. Ultimately one can recognise the validity and importance of this work which, while revealing a situation that will strike many as almost incredible, discloses at its close that millions of others are experiencing comparable conditions. Consequently, this film alerts us to slavery as it exists today as well as being an unforgettable portrait of one individual case.

 

For the record I should add that having missed this film on its limited cinema release I caught up with it on BBC television in the series Storyville and what was screened, although unannounced as such, was a shortened version of about 77 minutes. It's impossible to know what was lost or gained by this cut, but it seems safe to say that A Woman Captured is a film to seek out wherever it may be available and in whatever form.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Marish.

 

Dir Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, Pro Julianna Ugrin and Viki Réka Kiss, Screenplay Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, Ph Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, Ed Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, Music Osaba Kalotás.

 

Syndicado/an Éclipse Film production/Corso Film-Sheffield Doc/Fest.
89 mins. Hungary/Germany/Czech Republic/Canada. 2017. Rel: 27 October 2018. Cert. 12A.