Director: Pál Gábor
Production: MAFILM Objektív Stúdió; color, 35 mm; running time: 92 minutes; language: Hungarian; distributed by Hungarofilm. Released 1978.
Screenplay: Pál Gábor and Endre Vészi; photography: Lajos Koltai; editor: Éva Kármentö; production designer: András Gyürki; costumes: Éva Z. Varga; original music: György Selmeczi; sound: György Fék; assistant director: Dezsö Koza.
Cast: Veronika Papp (Vera Angi); Erzsi Pásztor (Anna Traján); Éva Szabó (Mária Muskát); Tamás Dunai (István André); László Horváth (József Neubauer); László Halász (Sas); and others.
Awards: Silver Seashell/Best Director (Pál Gábor), San Sebastián (Spain) International Film Festival, 1979; Audience Award for Best Feature, São Paulo (Brazil) International Film Festival, 1979.
Burns, Bryan, World Cinema: Hungary, Trowbridge, 1996.
Burns, Bryan, Angi Vera, Trowbridge, 1996.
Gallagher, Michael, "Angi Vera: A Conversation with Pál Gábor," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 10, no. 2, Spring 1980.
Quart, Leonard, "Angi Vera," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 34, no. 1, Autumn 1980.
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At a compulsory political propaganda session at a hospital in communist Hungary in the fall of 1948 Vera Angi, a shy 18-year-old nursemaid, raises and courageously criticizes the hospital's corruption and its neglect of the patients. Her criticism impresses the comrades, particularly as it legitimates their plans to get rid of some politically untrustworthy doctors. The fact that Vera is an orphan of working-class background is particularly useful—she fits the template for new cadres that the Communist Party is looking to promote. The Party needs people like Vera, and soon she is sent to a six-month long political education course for party functionaries.
Vera is aware of her political ignorance, but she is willing to learn; her "tabula rasa" attitude is particularly welcome by the Party well-wishers. The course also enrolls other upwardly mobile workers. Amidst all of them, however, Vera is the best. She is a natural, a genius of the new political correctness. Rather than making friends with younger women, she is attracted to an older aparatchik—Anna Trajan, a sour old maid—who is preparing to enter the nomenklatura as a newspaper editor-in-chief. Anna's tutelage is crucial—she teaches Vera how to recognize and denounce political untrustworthiness, and how to report on the politically deviant.
One of Vera's classmates, a miner, develops an attraction to her, but she rebuffs him. She is interested in another man instead, the group seminar leader István Andre, a family man. During a party they come close to each other as they dance, holding a small ball between their foreheads, an erotically loaded scene that sharply contrasts with the austere surroundings. Soon thereafter Vera confesses her love to István; he admits he is also attracted to her. That same night she visits him secretly and they have sex. The following day, however, she begins persistently to avoid him. At a criticism and self-criticism party meeting which follows, Vera publicly denounces her affair with István. She claims to be ashamed and blames it all on herself. István is driven to admit his love in public, only to be rebuffed by Vera, who says she does not really love him. István is removed from the course, and a new study group leader takes over.
The others in the group ostracize Vera. During the graduation ceremony, she collapses on the stage. When she comes back to her senses, after the course is over, everyone else have left for their places of origin. She, however, does not have anywhere to go and does not want to return to the hospital. Anna Trajan informs her the Party has decided to make her a journalist as she has proven to be suitable for this responsible profession. She takes Vera away in a car. On the road they pass by one of the women, a fellow student, who does not even want to look at Vera. The concluding shot of the movie shows Vera in a close up, introvertedly looking in front of her. She is alone. She has begun her ascent to her future career.
Angi Vera is the story of an individual's doomed attempt to break free in a society which has banned individuality in principle. Rather than challenging and confronting the system, Vera Angi becomes its voluntary victim. Her crippled personality fits well the psychological profile drafted by the communists. She has rejected human warmth, friendship, and love, and she does not care very much about being alone. She is a monster, subtly indicted by the filmmakers.
The early Stalinist years—the period after the so-called "amalgamation," the coercive co-optation of all liberal parties under the Communist one—provide the social context for the film. The film, however, treats party politics as an extension of personal politics. The individuals who are the center of attention are concerned about their own survival and are prepared to adjust by swiftly changing political colors. The narrative is structured around collective events, culminating in the depressing party meetings which most people seem to detest but in which Vera learns to thrive. The meetings, at which everybody undergoes harsh scrutiny and self-criticism, are regularly attended by high-placed party comrades. The meetings are designed so that the attendees maintain a constant feeling of unspecified guilt; they cultivate uncritical conformism.
With its exploration of suppressed sexuality and its numerous references to Vera's deprived childhood, Angi Vera is a finely crafted psychological study of an individual in a constraining social context. The exquisite cinematography of Lajos Koltai, István Szabó's regular director of photography, subtly problematizes the relationship between public and private by juxtaposing extreme close ups and scenes of mass gatherings. The gray, dull light of winter afternoons amidst a cold landscape justifies the choice of subdued colors that work greatly to enhance the message of alienation and constraint.
Pál Gábor's next film, the acclaimed but lesser known Wasted Lives (Kettévált mennyezet), (1981), was also set in the 1950s and continued the director's interest in the issues of individual fate in the context of Stalinist confines. This topic has been a defining interest for other leading Hungarian directors as well—for Kárloy Makk's subtle Love (1979) and Another Way (1982), for Marta Mészarós's utterly personal Diary Trilogy (1982–1990), for Péter Bacsó's satire The Witness (1969) and Oh, Bloody Life!, (1983), and for István Szabó's psychological study, Father (1966). Like Angi Vera, many of these films treat the period from a coming-of-age point of view and offer fine studies of personality formation in a society that demands conformism.