Synopsis: This is a story of a special relationship between two women, a writer and her maid.
Stars: Helen Mirren, Martina Gedeck, Károly Eperjes
Director: István Szabó
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: In looking over the credits for the Hungarian-produced film The Door I was interested to note that director István Szabó is also credited as the screenwriter, adapting the work of the late Magda Szabó for the screen. Thinking I was putting two and two together, I assumed that there was a familial relation between the two that would account for the journey from page to screen. So it was surprising to discover upon further research that director and author shared no blood ties, only a promise from István to Magda (one of Hungary’s foremost novelists) that he’d bring her tale of the relationship between a young wife and her brusque maid to the silver screen.
Director Szabó seems to have brought some of the problems with the material to the screen with him though, in a film that seems disjointed in structure and uneven in performance. It’s a curious little piece of work, especially considering the involvement of Oscar winner Mirren (Hitchock) who, while adding a considerable amount of gravitas to her role, winds up sticking out like a gilded thumb in some otherwise shaky performances.
Mirren is Emerenc, a maid by trade living in a small Hungarian town shortly after WWII that begrudgingly goes to work for sweetly plain Magda (Gedeck, so good in Mostly Martha) and her husband. Emerenc is the type that asks for references rather than giving them when she’s asked by Magda to help around her large house. Sour faced and gruff, Emerenc does things her own way and expects everyone to get out of her way while harboring a secret that may be tied to wartime misdeeds no one is willing to talk about.
Szabó won an Oscar for Best Foreign Film for 1981’s Mephisto and has racked up an admirable body of work over the years. The Door is his first feature in six years and while it isn’t a homerun, it’s probably more along the lines of a double play. Maybe it was just the print I saw at the Minneapolis/St.Paul International Film Festival but the movie has a very rough look to it, with golden hues paired alongside flat colors that do no favors for the complexions of anyone. Mirren is scrubbed clean, dressed down, and still outshines Gedeck who seems stymied by her character’s passiveness. The few times Magda does stand her ground with Emerenc, there’s a fire between the actresses that makes the screen come alive – but these moments are few and far between with two many of the same set-ups running in circles.
That being said, there was something intriguing about the film that helped carry it through its 97 minutes with ease. Though I found some of the developments frustrating and never warmed to any of the characters onscreen, it’s never a bad day when Mirren is allowed to go for broke with a character…even at the cost of overshadowing her costars.