A Woman Captured (2017) | IDFA 2017
Dir.: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter; Documentary; Hungary 2017, 90 min.
Bernadett Tuza-Ritter (Cinetrain: Russian Winter) has certainly achieved something singular: her documentary about a Hungarian woman held like a slave by a rather ordinary family, is not only moving, but Tuza-Ritter can claim that for – for once – a documentary really changed the life of the protagonist.
We meet Marish, a woman of 53, who looks thirty years older, being woken up early in the morning, so to feed the animals living in the yard of the family house, presided over by her master, Eta. Marish has lived in captivity for over eleven years. Her youngest daughter Vivi escaped to the state orphanage, away from the draconian demands of Eta. Marish is tasked with housekeeping and the care of three unruly children, she also has to work a daily shift in the factory, giving her boss the monthly wage of 550 Forint as “for lodging and food”. In addition Eta makes money out of Marish whenever there is a chance and insults her into the bargain.. The filmmaker had to pay Eta 300 Forint a month, for being allowed to film Marish – and only under Eta’s strict auspices, Tuza-Ritter was not allowed tomfilm the regular beatings Marish suffers from her violent and tyranical boss. Tuza-Ritter phones the police, but is told that they can’t do anything about the situation: in Hungary domestic abuse can only be prosecuted where the victim is related to the aggressor.
The children break Eta’s favourite glasses, and pass the blame off on Marish, and even the dog Lola is treated with more respect and care than Marish. Finally, Tuza-Ritter helps Marish to escape to a safe house in a city 200 km away from her tormentor. During their nighttime flight Marish is afraid that the filmmaker will betray her – Marish, obviously, has very little confidence in her fellow humans. But when Marish confesses that her real name is Edith, and that Marish was her slave name, we know that a psychological barrier has been broken. Soon Edith is re-united with her daughter Vivi, who is expecting a baby.
That slavery is alive and well in the EU came as a shock to the director and will also horrify the audience. Both the police and the social services seem completely unfazed by this parlous situation. What is missing here is an enquiry as to why Marish became a slave in the first place? And clearly there are indications that Edith has always suffered from low self esteem and has a history of colluding with powerful figures in her life, allowing them to dominate her. She does not appear to have been locked up or chained in Eta’s house, or indeed, prevented from escaping, so she has clearly ‘acquiesced’ on some level to her imprisonment, so technically she cannot be classified as a slave. But without knowing anything about her childhood these are only assumptions.
Tuza-Ritter’s camera is the witness of Edith’s ordeal, and the intimate images are often frightening: Edith is not even allowed to sleep in a private bedroom, but on a couch in the hallway. She is isolated, house and yard are her prison. She is, literally, kept in the dark. A Woman Captured is a brave document, a unique achievement, because the filmmaker took action, when nobody else cared. Tuza-Ritter achieves an intensity akin to a Grimms fairy-tale, with Eta as the evil witch. MT
IDFA | International Documentary Film Festival | 15 November – 26 November 2017