When former teacher Magda (Gedeck) moves into a new home in a leafy suburb of Budapest in the 1960s, she asks Emerenc (Mirren), an elderly neighbour, if she’d be willing to housekeep, freeing up Magda to follow her ambitions as a writer.
After some hesitation Emerenc agrees, and a strange relationship begins as the two women explore each other’s boundaries: those of Magda, an artist who depends upon the support of a calm, caring environment, and those of Emerenc, keeper of that calm.
Filmed as a series of short scenes, with a limited cast, the film quickly develops an intense, almost theatrical intimacy. Unhappily, the atmosphere is not matched by content.
Gedeck is flat as the writer who only slowly accepts her servant’s hard-won individuality. Mirren’s portrayal of complex intransigence compensates, but the overall question of public acclaim versus the rewards of basic human engagement is not satisfyingly answered.
The Door (Hinter der Tür) | Directed by István Szabó (Hungary, Germany 2012) with Helen Mirren, Martina Gedec. Starts April 5