Screen Editor Gethin Morgan reviews A Woman Captured, which has its UK premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest on 8 June and is nominated for the Grand Jury Award.

A Woman Captured is the kind of documentary where the filmmaker has managed to take the camera to a place that, ordinarily, no one could go. Bernadett Tuza-Ritter acts as writer, director, editor, cameraperson and eventually close friend of Marish, the slave whom this story is about.

Somehow, Tuza-Ritter managed to convince Eta, the rich Hungarian woman enslaving Marish (and others), to allow her to essentially live with Marish and film her day-to-day life. The insight this gives is both extraordinary and devastating.

At this point Marish has cooked, cleaned and taken care of her masters household for 11 years. An image shown of her first day shows just how much she has aged; her wrinkles deep, skin tough and hands worn. The only time she gets out of the house is to work her factory job, earning a decent wage, all of which goes straight to Eta. All Marish gets is the tiniest amount of food (at times she feeds off leftovers), a sofa to sleep on and cigarettes.

The cruelty on display is soul-destroying as Eta taunts, harrasses and abuses her captor both mentally and physically. “Happiness. It’s never anywhere near where I am”, Marish says, rather nonchalantly.

Marish is an incredible subject. She is sweet, caring and has a wry sense of humour (“I can make jokes anytime, even when I feel like crying”). It’s bafflingly impressive considering her situation, which she is totally resigned to. That is, until the bond she develops with the filmmaker becomes so strong that Marish realises she does not have to live like this, so she plots her escape to reunite with her 16 year old daughter.

The deftness with which Tuza-Ritter crafts this film is remarkable considering it is a feat merely to have captured the images at all. Despite the footage being a little grey and grainy, she manages to capture some stunning images. Her eye for a powerful moment is terrific; whether it’s showing Eta feeding her dog with food she wouldn’t give Marish, or simply Marish’s facial expression when Tuza-Ritter says she can do whatever she wants. Perhaps most powerfully of all, the word slave is not uttered once other than in writing at the beginning and end.

This film is so packed with heart. It’s eye-opening, devastating yet heart-warming. Meanwhile it’s also incredibly insightful. Modern slavery is a subject not often spoken about but this documentary highlights it’s horrifying reality. There are an estimated 45m slaves worldwide today suffering from the same cruelty as Marish.

It’s that double-edged sword of being so personal yet so informative that makes A Woman Captured a truly astonishing achievement in documentary filmmaking.

5 stars

Image Credit: Sheffield Doc/Fest

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