Marta Meszaros’ semi-autobiographical “diary” series closes with a whimper rather than a bang with the prequel “Little Vilma: The Last Diary.” Clumsily dialogued and often stiffly staged pic gives no sense of either the political exhilaration or the life-and-death drama of the Stalinist era in which it is set , and is memorable only for some poetic landscape lensing by the director’s son, Nyika Jancso. Even fests look likely to pass on this one by the sexagenarian helmer.
In its combo of imagery and music, the movie harks back to the first in the series, “Diary for My Children,” shot in B&W in 1982 but not passed for public showing until two years later. The growing blandness of the series, which continued with “Diary for My Loves” (1987) and “Diary for My Mother and Father” (1990), both in color, reaches a nadir with “Vilma,” which tries to be both an entree and a wrap-up to the grand trilogy and succeeds on neither count.
Helmer’s alter ego, Vilma (Lili Monori, looking a tad too young), visits the mountainous Central Asian republic of Kirgizstan, once part of the Soviet Union, whither her sculptor father went with his family in the ’30s, as one of many Euro leftist intellectuals entranced with the Soviet political experiment. One by one, however, they were carted away on trumped-up charges during the Stalinist purges of 1937-38, the father of Vilma/Meszaros amongst them.
Film ping-pongs between present and past, as the contempo Vilma finally gets written proof that her dad was shot for supposedly passing mining secrets to the Germans. Second half has the young Vilma taken away to a Young Soviets school, where she is renamed Nina Alexeyevna, and, at long last, allowed to go back to Hungary after being adopted by a Spanish revolutionary friend of her parents.
There’s little going on here beyond some affecting mystical episodes in which the young Vilma gazes at the stunning Kirgiz scenery or bonds with her mother by the shores of Lake Issyk Kul before the latter dies in ’42. The community of leftist foreigners is thinly drawn, and the character of a Moravian Czech who oversees them is foggily backgrounded and unconvincingly portrayed by Polish actor Jan Nowicki, a Meszaros regular.