A labda (1974, Hungary)

A labda (“The ball”) is a made-for-TV movie about Melinda, played by Edit Domján, a woman who moves from Budapest, the capital, to a small town to become the caretaker of the local community center. Her primary motive for the move is to seek some after two failed marriages, where her exes were cheating on him. She also had hopes to do something good with her life. So she throws herself into her work, helping anybody in any way who asks for it. The rumor mills, the close mindedness and local office politics, however, crashes both of her dreams.

A few random thoughts:

  • Community center (“M?vel?dési ház”) was a peculiar institution in the 1970’s Hungary. It was hosting every event for the community, from school plays to city council meetings, from movie viewing to any ceremony somebody needed a hall for. It, like every other institution, had to report to the state how it was doing. As shown in the movie the usage statistics were so important, that people tried lots of things to increase them that were on the border (or way beyond) the unethical.
  • The community center in the movie also hosted the library. Several key scenes are set there. As a librarian I both enjoyed the prominent display of the library and was dismayed when it was used as an impromptu pub.
  • The opening (and only) music of the film was the infamous and creepy theme from “Once Upon a Time in the West.” This selection set the tone for those who have seen that film, made 6 years before. The opening scene shows a package arriving and being picked up at a desolate train station. We know that we arrived to  the middle of emptiness.
  • The locals frequently referred to Melinda as the dame coming from the big city. The underlying tension between big city and small town is something that Hungarian sociologists devoted considerable time to decipher and analyse. The film depicts it to some extent, but doesn’t try to explain it.
  • My knowledge of what was censored in 1974 by the communist regime and what was not slightly shifted by watching this movie. Melinda had a discussion with a local teacher about how they both ended up being in this remote location, far away from the cultural and intellectual hub that Budapest means. The man she talked to explained, that it was not his non-existent role in the 1956 revolution that got him intro trouble, but how his later writings got him exiled. Previously I thought that the script of this little conversation could have not been passed the censors 1974. As far as I know the first Hungarian samizdats were published in 1976, so two years before that this was quite an open way to communicate.
  • I kept waiting for the explanation of the movie’s title. I got it only at the very end in the form of a conversation between Melinda, who wants to quit and the man who was visiting her at the hospital bed:
    – El akarok menni innen.
    – Hova?
    – Akarhova. Valami kis faluba konyvelonek.
    – Draga Melinda. Minel kisebb a labda, annal surubb a petty. Inkabb kostolja meg ezt a desszertet.
    (- I want to get away from here.
    – Where to?
    – Anywhere. To a small village as an accountant.
    – Dear Melinda. The smaller a ball is the more dense its spots are. Try this dessert instead.)
    The “spots” in the above conversation could refer to the people or the trouble one can encounter in a location of any size. It was a metaphor worthy to ponder upon either interpretation you take.
  • In the last scene of the movie Melinda receives a copy of Balzac’s “Illusions perdues”. How appropriate and direct. Her reactions are not.

Watch the movie

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