Go see “Heights and Depths” (Magasságok és mélységek) as soon as it comes your way!

If there’s justice in the world, and if such justice comes the way of Magasságok és mélységek (Heights and Depths, directed by Sándor Csoma), it will be winning multiple awards at festivals this year. I have seen nothing like it. A tense, meditative film that goes to a difficult place and stays there for a long time… and through this, subtly and slowly, points a way toward hope. Without a trace of a cliché or false solution.

I went to see the film because Platon Karataev’s song “Létra” (to be released this week) is in it. This was not one of those situations where a song ends up in a “soundtrack,” coming through for a few moments and then fading away. Its placement is perfect and gives it full honor. Go see the film, and you will know the song when you hear it, even without having heard it before. The song replies to the film, and the film to the song.

The film steps inside the mind of Hilda Sterczer (Emőke Pál), the wife of a famous mountaineer, Zsolt Erőss (Zsolt Trill), who dies in a descent from a Himalayan peak. (This story is based on real lives; just as in the film, Zsolt Erőss made his last ascent with an artificial leg.) As Hilda tries to contend with her loss, the press and town gossips won’t leave her alone. We don’t always know what she’s imagining and what’s “real,” but we also know that the imagination is as real as anything for her and her six-year-old daughter, Gerda (played lovingly and brilliantly by Enikő Nagy). The question is how to live with its torments. There are no quick or pat answers. But slowly, hope and help come into view. I don’t want to say more.

The acting, the cinematography, the directing, the pacing, and the music are all phenomenal.

The film does not rush out of the agony of loss, or melodramatize it, or frame it in some comprehensible way. Loss is madness itself. You don’t even know if it happened, let alone why. You keep thinking you’re wrong and the person will come back. Or you shut off all hope prematurely. Or you do both at once (which makes no sense from the outside, but still plays itself out).

What do you do, then? The film takes you inside the bewilderment while also showing you rooms shimmering with light, a forest soft with color, roads and windows, snow and mountain peaks, the innards of a freezer, a tent in a downpour, beautiful and suffering faces.

What do you do, indeed? The film has no direct answers, but one character shows such patient, humble wisdom that I wished I could talk to her myself. Speak, the film says, at least. But it says a lot more.

I made a few updates to this piece after posting it.

Another update: Platon Karataev’s “Létra” has just been released as a single!

Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Michael in Seattle

     /  September 25, 2022

    Thank you for the tip. Sad that we now have so few -actual- theaters that show “import” films. We miss those bygone days.

    Hope you have a fun visit back here in the US of A!

    Reply
    • Yes, I remember many theaters that are no more, in New Haven, New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere.
      Thanks–the visit is around the corner now, less than a month away!

      Reply
  2. Thank you for the recommendation. I’ll watch out for it, hoping it will be available/streamed here with English subtitles.

    Reply
  1. Come Hear the Platon Karataev Duo in New Haven and NYC! | Take Away the Takeaway

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

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