Maris lives like a modern-day slave in today’s Budapest with a family where she is humiliated and physically abused. Bernadett Tuza-Ritter followed the 52-year-old woman’s daily life with her camera, for a year and a half, to show how someone can be held prisoner for ten years by fear instead of bars.
I across Maris story by accident when Eta boasted that she had a handmaid.
I was going to make a short film for the University of Film Arts, and I didn’t know anything about their background, except that Maris worked for Eta, and they had a , but I didn’t know that she didn’t get paid.
I naively arrived there with the request to shoot a movie about Maris for a few days, showing only her face.
I told them it was an entrance exam to school. I was blindsided, and so were they, because I knew nothing.
Was it difficult to persuade them to let you shoot a movie?
They allowed it relatively easily because I didn’t mean any harm. I told Eta that I never wanted to show any other face but Maris’s. I would just watch her washing dishes, working. I was allowed to go there for a few days.
It was during those days that Maris told me that she was not paid for her work and that they sent her to work in a factory, and she had to hand over the money.
It was the first sign that made me suspicious, and that’s why I asked for more shooting days.
I did not realise immediately, until a long time later, that this was a serious situation. She did not share with me at the beginning that she was being oppressed. She had mentioned that there was a workers’ hostel and that she wanted to go there, but that was just a pipe dream. It turned out it was not that simple. She did not say at the beginning that they would be looking for her if she left and that she would have to hide. She was ashamed, afraid of being blamed, so she did not tell anyone. The victim-blaming is high.
People still ask after the film why she did not go away. Sometimes I say it’s because they took her ID card. That is something tangible, easier to understand. It is hard to be empathetic in a situation we have never been in.
Did they not want to stop the shooting?
They did not feel it was a problem. After a while, they wanted money for shooting. I never wanted to film their faces or persuade them about it. In this context, we never had a conflict. The whole time I was shooting, I was alone. I never revealed to Eta the secrets that Maris told me. All these things helped me to be able to shoot there for so long.
How did the student film grow into a feature-length film?
In the meantime, I thought about a possible script, a possible story, but whether Maris would do it or not, I didn’t know in advance.
Psychologically, the situation is very similar to a situation where someone is hurt by a partner or a family member.
Exactly. It is very difficult to get out of something like that, let alone a situation like this.
Many people also asked why Maris did not go away; the door was open. But that’s not the point. In those few years, is destroyed physically and mentally.
You think that if you can’t hold on to someone, you will never pull yourself together. It took strength and the feeling that she is not alone to be able to change her entire life. In the same way, you can stay for a long time in a relationship, even if it’s wrong for you. Even when changing jobs, we find it difficult to decide even though no one is forcing us to stay.
Where did you draw the line for yourself?
One fundamental thing determined my actions.
I did not want to tell her what to do. I wanted her to decide freely.
Who am I to say that we are leaving now? This is a huge responsibility. I did not want to get her in trouble either. She did not have the choice for years, and it is so important to make that decision herself. Also, because there are so many cases of relapse. Even if they become free, they do not become strong enough to remain free. I wanted her to be strong. For this reason, I decided to support her only in starting to believe in herself. She must know that she is a lovable woman, she was born free, and she deserves a good life. I made it clear from the beginning that if she wanted me to stop shooting, I would put the camera down immediately. I wanted her to control her own life.
Did they try to catch up?
After the escape, I believe they were trying to find her for two months.
I said I did not know where she was. Now the film is so much in the public eye that the public is defending her.
What can we do? Is there anything we can do to help, if not Maris, but people in similar situations?
We are also launching an information campaign in connection with cinema screening. On our website, you can read the information on how to recognise a victim, who can become a victim, who the perpetrator is. On the other hand, places where you can ask for help. The crisis centre emphasized that victims should give sufficient information when they call. They need to tell exactly what their situation is. This would make it easier to identify the type of help they need.
We have created a Facebook page called Free Life where you can report such cases directly in a private message. The site is run by professionals who work with victims of human trafficking and their placement.
We have also created a donation number with a foundation. The goal is to inform as many victims as possible that help is available and exactly where they can find it. We would like to produce information leaflets and distribute them around the country, as well as generate an online reporting option. Donation are required to set up these things. Whether a shelter can be built depends on how much money is collected.
The authorities are not prepared either. This topic does not fall into the existing categories…
The “problem” is that they are not physically enclosed. Therefore, it depends on their testimony if they declare that they were intimidated and abused.
But if the police go there, they wouldn’t know what to do. The victim will never say in front of his captors, “Yes, I’m being hurt here,” because they know when the police walk away, they will be beaten to death. That’s why it is so important that the victim dares to ask for help. They shouldn’t have to go for medical evidence because they don’t have the option. They have a route, and they can only use that and never be late. If the victim realised that they are victims, there is help, there is a place to go – Maris was afraid of becoming homeless and being found on the street – if they could be informed about all this, then maybe a higher percentage of them would dare to leave such a situation.
Date of presentation: 18 April 2019
Hungarian documentary, 89 min, 2017
(Distributor: ELF Pictures)
Translated by: Tímea Szabó-Tódor
Reviewed by: Timea L. Kovács