Adaptations are a tricky beast; elements that work on the page sometimes don’t translate to the big screen, a fate unfortunately becoming of István Szabó’s newest film The Door. Set in Hungary during the mid-twentieth century, The Door is about the unlikely bond that forms between two women, a young and successful writer marching towards her future and her elderly maid, trying to escape her tragic past. Based on the book by Magda Szabo, The Door ultimately fails to deliver the emotional payoff it aspires to.
When Magda (Martina Gedeck) and her husband move into a large house, they hire an elderly neighbour, Emerenc (Helen Mirren) to act as a maid, to cook and clean allowing Magda to concentrate on her writing. Though Emerenc is not without her quirks. Difficult, short tempered and withdrawn, she is petrified of storms and no one has set foot into her apartment in years. Over time, the two women form a close friendship and when Emerenc lets Magda into her apartment, the secrets that are revealed will test the friendship to its limits.
The relationship between the two women form the backbone of the film, and the emotional resonance of the film rests on how connected the audience is to this friendship. For me, this is where the film failed to live up to it’s potential. It felt as though I only knew the two were friends because the characters told me that they were. Outside of a shared penchant for smashing personal objects, the film gave no reason to believe that they would have formed such a strong bond, and neither woman seems to develop or grow through this relationship. The secrets behind Emerenc’s door are intriguing at first but the reveal isn’t as profound as the film thinks it is.
Mirren’s performance as Emerenc outshines the rest of the cast; the glimpses into her past give a context to the woman behind the hard exterior and Mirren has a compelling presence on screen that lifts any scene she is in. Gedeck is a charismatic actress, but limited development mixed with poorly written dialogue makes Magda uninteresting and forgettable.
Filmed on location in Budapest, the film has a visual aesthetic that is nothing short of stunning. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Elemér Ragályi, the film captures the spirit of post war Hungary. Through the changing of the seasons, from the warm glow of the summer to the falling snow of winter, to flashbacks of Emerenc’s tragic past, the art direction and production design is full of subtle details that give a sense of life otherwise missing from the film.
The Door had a lot of potential; a prestigious literary source, award winning director and a powerful role for a well respected actress. The Door has many elements of a good film, but in the end it lacks the emotional centre and conviction to live up to its potential.
By Michael Hawks.
The Door opens at Luna Palace Cinemas Thursday, July 19.