In a lot of ways, Two Girls on the Street is shockingly, and refreshingly, modern. The editing and cinematography is elaborate, the plot is about underprivileged women, and it's unafraid to confront difficult subject matter head-on. And yet, as the film enters the third act, it eventually falls victim to convention and makes several concessions to theoretically be more friendly to a mainstream audience-at the cost of its artistic integrity.
Both protagonists are very different people: Gyongyi is a disgraced woman forced out of her family who eventually winds up as a performer in an all-woman band. Vica has to do backbreaking labor at a construction site to support herself, all the while being sexually harassed and assaulted by the male workers. After a particularly bad night of abuse, Vica meets and is subsequently taken in by Gyongyi. The two become friends and navigate through love and life in 1930s Hungary.
The general premise is very interesting and has a lot of room for social commentary. There's hints towards the protagonists' relationship being more than platonic, which is subtext that opens up many storytelling possibilities. Aided by both women's vulnerable and convincing performances, their dynamic is interesting to watch, and each character has a surprising amount of depth. In general, it's pretty remarkable to see an old film be so unafraid to showcase female independence and critique male chauvinism.
On a technical level, Two Girls on the Street is also impressive. There are lots of dissolves, quick cuts, pans, and even some inventive music choices at a time when most movies would just settle for the bare minimum. The costume and production design is also really interesting, although the hairstyles of the leads are so similar that it can sometimes be hard to tell them apart. Regardless, I didn't have high expectations for a probably low-budget 1930s film, and they were still exceeded.
However, all of these positives come with a major caveat: the ending. The man who assaulted Vica happens to live in the apartment she and Gyongyi just moved in to, and she falls head-over-heels for him. Gyongyi tries to separate the two, although not because of how dangerous he is. At first, I thought this was a clever and ironic twist that the two women were fighting over a man when they had bonded over their bad experiences with them, also serving as a metaphor for the all-encompassing inevitability of a patriarchy's effect. Maybe Vica's newfound obsession is a symptom of her trauma that she then has to reconnect with Gyongyi to overcome.
But that's not what ends up happening. Gyongyi breaking them up causes Vica to attempt suicide. Gyongyi expresses regret over her actions, and, after her recovery, Vica officially gets together with her abuser.
This ending is all wrong. It's shown very early on how horrible Vica's treated, only for the film to turn around by the end and suddenly expect us to root for their love. Part of me hopes that it's an intentionally sad ending about the way society doesn't treat sexual assault with the degree of seriousness that it deserves, but the swelling musical score when they're in each other's arms says otherwise. It's frankly dumbfounding that such a smart and feminist movie suddenly has such an unfitting and frustrating ending that reaffirms male superiority.
But if you can get over the ending, Two Girls on the Street is a great, progressive exploration of women in our society. The storyline it explores is interesting, the technical quality is astonishing, and the themes it touches on still resonate today. It's just such a pity that it couldn't stick the landing.
Final Score: 73/100.