The brilliance of a young Isabelle Huppert lends quiet intensity to this piercing period elegy. Budapest, 1936: Szilvia (Lili Monori), a wealthy heiress to an enormous family fortune, befriends Irén (Huppert), a young shopgirl of modest means. Unable to give birth, Szilvia offers Irén money in exchange for conceiving a child with her husband (Jan Nowicki) on her behalf—a transaction that blurs the boundaries of the two women’s social roles and leads all involved into an explosive moral, emotional, and romantic minefield. Set amidst the glimmering decadence of a pre-war Europe being consumed by the encroaching rot of Nazism, The Heiresses is a coolly harrowing dissection of class and the cost of motherhood and a haunting vision of lives on a collision course with history.
In an interview with Lawrence O’Toole for Film Comment, Huppert spoke about working with Mészáros on The Heiresses: “The noticeable difference [between collaborating with a female director and working with a male director] was that you are less handled by a woman than a man. It has to do with her history. For centuries she hasn’t had the habit of handling certain things. It’s also a matter of her relationship to power; it’s not the same as a man’s. We don’t expect a woman to be that powerful.”
Directed by legendary Márta Mészáros, who was the first woman to direct a film in Hungary.
Hungary, France, 1980, 105 minutes, 2K DCP, Dir. Márta Mészáros, Unrated, Janus Films
“Márta Mészáros tells this story with restraint and very few moments of emotional catharsis, which leaves the viewer feeling tense right up until the moment that the film ends.” —Jumpcut
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