With astonishing access to a truly horrifying issue, A Woman Captured is as astounding as a directorial debut gets. Formerly a film school student in Budapest, Bernadett Tuza-Ritter embarks on an emotional journey with house slave Marish, who has resided with an abusive family for over a decade. Tuza-Ritter’s access is the most remarkable element of the film but also remains the film’s most tragic element – with permission to film being granted by a family, not only unashamed of having servants, but actively boastful about it. On top of working twelve hours a day in a local factory, Marish conducts an abundance of domestic tasks back at the family home from feeding the farm yard animals, to changing the bedding, to serving the meals. One of the film’s most tender moments comes when a child directly questions why she sleeps on the sofa and not in a bed upstairs. The more time filmmaker and subject spend together the stronger the bond between them grows swiftly into a friendship but simultaneously a life-line for Marish. As the film develops so does Marish’s trust in Tuza-Ritter and, for seemingly the first time, hope of escape blossoms. A conscious choice from the director, the only face ever to fill the frame is Marish’s. The woman she serves is only visible through shots of nicotine stained fingers, chipped and vibrantly varnished talons gripping the countless cigarettes. Off screen children giggle and converse, adults tease and mock and the head of the family barks orders and flings insults. Through it all, Marish’s bright but tired eyes remain in the centre of the frame; her aged face evidence of the years of abuse, lack of sleep and neglect.
We frequently hear Tuza-Ritter’s voice from behind the camera, a rare comfort in Marish’s isolated world. When the women are along together, Marish resorts into a more relaxed state, picking flowers and berries, savouring the smell and taste. Activities like this are ones we would be likely to enjoy but quickly forget but for Marish it is a prominent way to grasp at a faint hint of freedom, cling to her former identity in a bid to continue to survive. Through the camera lens, Marish is reminded she is not alone, that she is loved and that she is entitled to be free. For a documentary with just one visual focus, it is expertly cinematic. Music and natural light are used in a way one wouldn’t expect from a new filmmaker. The film refrains from being emotionally manipulative – a result of the sincerity of the relationship formed at its centre. It succeeds in being simultaneously observational and yet encouraging of direct action. More than anything the film is highly respectful and loving towards Marish, handling her situation and her story with compassion. Having recently had the pleasure of accompanying the film’s director on a short UK tour of the film, it was not surprising to see so many hands up in post-screening Q&As. It’s a film that leaves you with many questions but also a mixture of emotions, from anger to admiration. Even the best investigative documentaries rarely get this close to such a criminal situation. What Bernadett Tuza-Ritter has crafted is a remarkable and vital piece of media in the fight to end modern day slavery across the world. It deserves to be seen by everyone, if only to reveal the hideously universal relevance of its story.
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