‘A Woman Captured’ shares intimate account of modern-day domestic slavery

Lauryn Bolz

“A Woman Captured” at first seems to follow the relatively normal life of a woman living in rural Hungary. She goes to work, picks flowers and chatters with the filmmaker about the lovely evening. Then, she is given her enslaver’s leftovers as her dinner.

Bernadett Tuza-Ritter’s debut documentary film that profiles the daily life of a modern slave, Edith, sent shockwaves around the entire world and has created a new movement to stop this form of domestic slavery. The film was shown as part of the ACT Film festival April 7 and was followed up by a Q&A session with Tuza-Ritter. 

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The initial project of a five-minute short film soon became a one-and-a-half-year journey. Tuza-Ritter not only documents but explores and dissects the life of Edith, who for the first three-quarters of the film is only known as her servant name, Marish.

“I started this film with a different topic,” Tuza-Ritter said. “I applied to the Hungarian Film School to study directing, and they asked that I make a five minute short about the day of a person. I met this family through a friend of mine a few years earlier only by chance. I knew that Marish (Edith) was a servant, but I didn’t know she was not paid.”

Through organic and claustrophobically close shots on Edith’s tired face and worn hands, along with uncomfortably quiet music which enhances tense moments, Tuza-Ritter makes the audience feel as trapped as the subject is in her everyday life. As Edith moves through a modern world and a very contemporary house, the life that she and 45 million other modern slaves are living hits shockingly close to home.

Perhaps what makes the film so unique in comparison to other films is how it challenges commonly enforced journalistic standards of documentary filmmaking. Tuza-Ritter makes herself a character from behind the camera, often helping Edith with her chores and providing her comfort when she is abused. After a few months of filming Edith’s oppressive life, Tuza-Ritter reveals that she has called the police anonymously, only to be told that the Hungarian police were aware of the phenomenon happening, but that there was no way that they could provide protection for victims.

From the ethical side, it was obvious that she needed me. It was my first point to be there as a human being to support her.”-Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, director of “A Woman Captured”

After her phone call, Tuza-Ritter takes on a much more active role in helping Edith. Through developing a close friendship with her subject, Edith gains the confidence to escape her oppressors.

In a sequence of tense, heart-pounding shots, Edith, along with Tuza-Ritter, flee from the house that she has been enslaved in for approximately 10 years. The audience witnesses the intense mix of feelings, from horror to ecstasy, that dance across Edith’s face as she begins her new life as a free woman.

“I’m heading out into the big world with 150 euros in my pocket, the clothes that I am wearing, at 52 years old,” Edith said as she boarded a train to the city alongside Tuza-Ritter.

Edith, with the help of director Tuza-Ritter, escapes the home where she has been kept as a slave for 10 years. (Bernadett Tuza-Ritter | “A Woman Captured”)

Edith and Tuza-Ritter’s story has received international attention for its personal, organic storytelling and strong calling for social reform. It also raises questions on if it is for the own good of the subjects for filmmakers to take a more humanitarian approach to telling their stories, unlike the previous standard of a neutral storyteller.

“This is my first documentary, so I didn’t really know the rules before I started to shoot,” Tuza-Ritter said. “I heard that documentary filmmakers should be an observer, but I think it would not be ethically fair if I did not react to my protagonist’s life. The most important thing is that she is a human being, and the second most important thing is how I can show this to the world without hurting her.”

Since the film has shown in her own country, Tuza-Ritter said that a conversation has started in order to reform the system to help victims of modern slavery.

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“I had the rights to be more like a filmmaker or more like a person,” Tuza-Ritter said. “From the ethical side, it was obvious that she needed me. It was my first point to be there as a human being to support her.”

Encore screenings:

“Angels Are Made of Light“: Monday, April 8, 6:30 p.m. at The Lyric
“Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements” and “Edgecombe“: Tuesday, April 9, 6:30 p.m. at The Lyric
“Gaza” and “Our Song to War”: Wednesday, April 10, 6:30 p.m. at The Lyric
“Midnight Family” and “Trapped in the City of a Thousand Mountains“: Thursday, April 11, 6:30 p.m. at The Lyric

Lauryn Bolz can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @LaurynBolz.