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Hungary, 1958 (MIFF 1960, Programme 12)

Director: Karoly Makk

Shot in black and white, set in Badacsony, where volcanic rocks overlook the waters of Lake Balaton, this is the story of simple people of wild ungovernable passions. Coming home from a prisoner-of-war camp, Ferenc finds in his hut - in place of his lovely wife who has died in his absence - her sister Tera, an ugly, love-hungry spinster, caring for his son. Keeping him out of touch with the community, she nurses him to health, hoping to be able to keep him for herself. She earns his gratitude, if not the love she desires. When he eventually returns to work, he meets and marries Zsuzsa, a beautiful and healthy young woman, who transforms the old house and his old life. But Tera returns, to ruin the lives of the young couple in a tragic climax. . .

As the soldier, Janos Gorbe offers a performance of depth and mobility. The sister-in-law, played by Iren Psota, is tender and hateful in turn and Margit Bara as the young wife, is passionate, knowing. Some of the scenes are memorable, as the one in which the hunchbacked sister-in-law, riding atop an oxcart, comes down a narrow rutted road from the cottage as the soldier's wedding party in pristine white, struggles up the road. Or the climactic scene which shows the sister-in-law's morbid, hysterical fury at a fox being run down by fellow grape growers in the woods.

"If there is any sense in holding film festivals" (wrote an American critic, when The House Under The Rocks won the prize for the best film at the San Francisco Festival), "it is to discover such a completely unknown product of high quality." Although it is the work of a young director, everything is reliably in its right place; the crisp atmospheric handling of the story, the expressive acting, the impeccable photography and the unobtrusive score. Based on a novel by the important Hungarian writer Sandor Tatay, who actually lived almost all his life on the slope of Badacsony Hill, this is a serious and artistic film, authentically Hungarian in feeling and atmosphere.

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