Diary for My Children (1984)

The first of Meszaros’ powerful autobiographical ‘Diary’ films charts its young protagonist’s return from Russia to Hungary as communism rears its ugly head in the period after WWII.  

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,385

Dir. Marta Meszaros
1984 | Hungary | Drama | 103 mins | 1.37:1 | Hungarian
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some mature themes

Cast: Zsuzsa Czinkoczi, Anna Polony, Jan Nowicki
Plot: Juli, a Hungarian teenager who was orphaned after her father was shot during the Stalinist purges, returns from the Soviet Union to be raised by an aunt with a blind faith in communism.
Awards: Won Grand Prize of the Jury & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Source: Hungarian Film Archive

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Communism; Family;
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

The first of Marta Meszaros’ powerful autobiographical ‘Diary’ films, Diary for My Children was shot in black-and-white, unlike the other films in the series. 

But while some documentary footage was used to reflect the reality of the period that it was portraying, much of Meszaros’ work is a memory piece, drawing back to her teenage-hood as she dramatises her return from Russia to her homeland Hungary after being orphaned in WWII. 

Zsuzsa Czinkoczi plays Juli, the young woman in question as she is reprimanded for skipping school and going to the movies. 

As the adults around her begin to antagonise each other, Juli is caught between mistrusting relatives—most prominently, her foster mother Magda (Anna Polony in a cold and calculating performance) and her uncle Janos (Jan Nowicki, a Meszaros regular). 

“They are still fighting, don’t you understand?”

As the country is faced with the prospect of Soviet communism rearing its ugly head in the Eastern Bloc, political sides need to be taken. 

As such—and this is the thematic backbone of the entire set of films—individual agency versus systemic oppression becomes the undercurrent to which history unfolds from the point-of-view of the naïve Juli. 

Despite the historical context, Diary for My Children is largely focused on the family unit as it draws emotions out of conflict, trauma and the uncertainty of the future. 

I previously saw Diary for My Loves (1987) and Diary for My Father and Mother (1990) first, so going back to this starting point with knowledge of the events (both historical and personal) that would later unfold in Juli’s life is interesting in retrospect. 

There is still a sense of innocence to Juli and through the black-and-white mode, it does very much feel like a poetic reminiscence. 

Grade: A-



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