Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bizalom (Confidence) (1980)

War is capable of bringing out the worst in man. The sheer unpredictability and instability of the life of any human being affected by a war environment leads to a situation where decisions are strictly a product of the need for self preservation. There are times when selfishness overrides altruism, and while it is natural instinct to save one's own skin in a harrowing scenario in which a sense of security is the thing of the past and one has to always look over their shoulder, there is no escaping the fact that man will still need man. Companionship, love, bonding, trust, security, are things that every living person will always strive for, regardless of circumstance.

Hungarian filmmaker István Szabó's "Bizalom" (AKA Confidence) (1980) is a shining example that depicts a few days in the life of Kata (Ildikó Bánsági), the wife of a member of the resistance during WWII in Nazi-occupied Budapest. Kata is caught unawares, as she finds her life suddenly in turmoil when her husband is forced to go underground, and she is impelled to go into hiding herself, by having to pose as the wife of another resistance member on the run, who goes by the alias of János (Péter Andorai).

In such a scenario, both are expected to cohabit as a wedded pair in an apartment belonging to an older couple who also cannot know their true identities. The faux young couple are supposed to have a daughter who is somewhere safe! They cannot talk to anyone unless necessary, nor can they give out more information than is needed. Even fabrication is not allowed. It is imperative to keep any communication minimal and just stick to maintaining their fake identities. Any memorabilia of the past including photographs and letters should be burned and flushed down the toilet, for no risk of any kind is to be taken. Anything connecting them to their true pasts could be used against them by the Gestapo and hence is a strict no-no.

János seems to have mastered the art of such an existence and he is reduced to a non-human with some very human feelings of fear, mistrust and cynicism! He cannot trust Kata, who is quite the opposite, very fragile and completely new to this kind of chaos and finds it difficult to come to terms with the fact that she may not even hear from her husband or know the whereabouts of her real daughter at all in the unstable environment that is the result of war. She quickly gets very frustrated with the kind of calculated existence János orders her to lead in order to ensure their safety, but he makes it very clear that if she poses any kind of threat to his security then he would have to kill her and hence it is essential that she follows protocol!

Of course, how long can one lead a robotic and measured existence, especially when they are two lost souls desperately in need of human warmth? Not surprisingly, whilst living together, a bonding occurs between the two, love makes its presence felt and trumps the initial apprehensions. It wouldn't be wrong to say that this love stems from the fact that both are sailing in the same ship which could very well be sinking. At one point, when the Gestapo raid the neighbourhood looking for someone, both are traumatized; admitting to each other that it is only natural to be afraid, but at least they have each other to be keep company in this fearsome moment. It is a poignant and crucial scene that stresses upon the inherent need of man to have a hand to hold on to in times of distress.

But paranoia and doubt keep raising their ugly heads along with moral fits of guilt, even after tender lovemaking. It is here that Szabó's film asks a pertinent question. Is it morally wrong to be attracted to and find love with another person who may be the only one you can trust, the only one around as your support system, when your future is uncertain and you may never see your family again? After all, your existence as you know it may have to meet its sad end and you may never live to see the end of the war. The guilt is accompanied by János's constant suspicion and disbelief that it all seems too good to be true and Kata could very well be mixed up with the Gestapo.

Both, Kata and János are forced to come face to face with their beliefs and prejudices as they stand at the crossroad at which their loyalties will be put to the test. Both are experiencing what they call is true love, perhaps greater than they ever experienced with their spouses. Could it be that a dire situation makes one recognize true love? More so in case of Kata, whose husband withholds a lot of information from her, including his whereabouts, whereas János seems to be showing growing concern about her safety and well-being. A deluge of conflicting feelings is accurately portrayed by Szabó in intermittent soliloquies of the two central characters who can't seem to achieve any mental peace regarding which direction their thoughts would eventually lean towards.

This is especially true of János, who is wary of trusting even a passerby who he may have bumped into more than once! The tumultuous state of mind of Kata on the other hand is reflected through some bizarre nightmares that end with her waking up screaming and sweating all over. To add to her troubles is the added guilt of not being in a position to help an old school mate of hers who seeks her help but who Kata pretends to not recognize, owing to instructions from János! It is one powerful scene that shows the helpless Ildikó Kishonti sobbing as she accuses Kata of being a coward who won't help others, curses her and walks out.

The terrifying times of hand to mouth existence are depicted via disturbing scenes of people lining up for meager rations and water. The whole environment looks dreary, and the bleak, faded cinematography accentuates such a mood. The proceedings are tense, and never let up, despite a minimalistic setting. This includes, especially, the scenes in the dimly lit room occupied by the couple.

The uncomfortable, suffocating closeups render a claustrophobic air that is apt in a story that focuses on individuals cowering in fear and hiding away. The extraordinarily realistic performances of the two leads Ildikó Bánsági and Péter Andorai makes the predicament of the central characters all the more believable and their warm moment together amid the sounds of explosions outside, sends shivers down the spine along with invoking a feeling of immense sadness.

As the war threatens to come to an end and the feeling sets in that one of the outcomes of this could be a resumption of their old lives, the viewer empathizes with Kata as she painfully declares that she is awfully sad about the possibility of parting ways with János and although they were actually hiding out in there, she feels like a pleasant holiday is nearing its end. Sure enough, us audiences who by now feel at one with the lead pair are left with a bittersweet feeling at the prospect of a happy ending that technically would be them reuniting with their respective families!

Score: 10/10 


My personal, renewed take on the ending of "Bizalom" after a recent rewatch:


In the final few minutes of the film, we see Katalin being interviewed by some government officials. It seems that in the wake of the end of the Nazi occupation, with her old papers destroyed, Katalin is looking at securing or reclaiming her original identity, free from the baggage of her underground life.

The officials ask if they want her to make new papers for "both", which makes it ambiguous as to who they are referring to. It is safe to assume they mean her real husband because her confession starts with the sad story of what happened to her and her husband. She, however, simply replies: "Just for myself", indicating that she isn't concerned with getting papers for anyone else, neither Janos, nor her husband.

She no longer loves her husband and hence doesn't care about him or about making his papers. Also, he had disappointed her by not making her aware of his role as a resistance member. As for Janos, he suddenly announces, "They have come for me", and leaves her without any real confirmation as to when they would see each other again. "I can't come back. You will hear from me in a few days", he says. This departure, clubbed with a feeling that, Janos' love for her was never his priority, she has perhaps given up any real hopes of seeing him soon.

Despite Katalin's disregard for both men whilst making these papers, somewhere within, it is Janos she yearns for, and wishes to see him again. And so when her husband comes back for her in the end, there's a tearful expression of great disappointment and sadness instead of profound happiness. Now that the worst was over, there was no way her husband would go underground again. But Katalin's underground situation has changed her forever.

Katalin's tragedy is that despite wanting to make a fresh start, she has no evidence to reclaim her own identity, and no desire to reclaim her old life with her husband. What’s worse is, she had even refused to recognize that old classmate in an earlier scene, who she almost bumps into in the end, but is probably too ashamed to reach out to now. That, or perhaps, also an apprehension that this friend might take her revenge this time by NOT recognizing her, and further weakening her case! The husband's return perhaps means that she may be able to secure her original ID after all, at the cost of having to resume her life with him, something she no longer looks forward to.

And yet it is all very open ended, for Janos indeed does come back for Katalin, calling out her name. The placement of this scene makes it seem like this scene plays out in Katalin's head. We are given a glimpse of what she is imagining whilst tearfully hugging her husband. The hug happens, the tears roll down, and then Katalin's visage slightly changes in a way that expresses a sudden dreadful realization. Then we cut to the scene in which Janos is calling out, "Mrs. Janos Biro..where are you?"! Since her heart lies with Janos, the reunion with her husband that has marred any prospect of her getting back with Janos, makes her mind drift and anxiously think, "What if Janos is out there now, looking for me?"

Or he may indeed have returned, although it would be much of a coincidence that the husband and Janos both return at the same time, and it looks like these events don't seem to be temporally far apart. In case he has returned for real, then perhaps, he will visit the old couples' house again and find out that Katalin has reunited with her husband, and walk away. Or perhaps, he would only find the old woman there, who would tell him that she left with her "brother", in which case, he would continue to seek her out.

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