Posts Tagged ‘Hungarian arthouse’

Sweet Emma, Dear Böbe | Draga Emma, Edes Böbe, vázlatok, aktok

Dir: István Szabó | Drama, Hungarian 90′

The lives of two woman are laid bare in this gentle exploration of the final days of Communism from Hungarian director István Szabó. Having made their way to the capital to teach Russian a few years previously, the struggle to maintain their social position in the new regime is the focus of the narrative.

Johanna ter Steege gives a smouldering performance as Emma, and her recurring dream of rolling naked down a grassy bank opens this affecting film that glows with a limpid freshness in Lajos Koltai’s black and white camerawork. Enikö Börcsök plays her bubbly and flirtatious friend Böbe. The two sleep in tiny beds in their shared room at the teachers hostel near the airport in Budapest.

Sex is uppermost in Emma’s mind, and we see her subtly trying to capture the headmaster’s attention, across the playground where he chats nonchalantly to another girl, casually throwing her a smile that speaks volumes about their lowkey affair, that carries on despite his wife. Meanwhile her pupils burn their Russian literature books with glee on an open bonfire, and she quietly frets about losing her livelihood now her skills are out of favour – Russian no longer being any use with the fall of Communism. Language is a currency that has been devalued overnight. And Communist party members are no longer revered across the board, and this also applies to the classroom.

While the girls’ lives play out in this new regime, Szabó’s film – co-written with Andrea Vészits – examines a whole world changing suddenly, as ordinary citizens catch their breath and open their minds to the new possibilities and obvious changes that are inevitable. Böbe is convinced she can save herself by marrying a foreign guy. Clearly inequality between the sexes continues to rear its head: one scene shows naked women flashing themselves infront of a camera in the hope of securing preferential treatment for the latest jobs on offer.

There is a raw emotional truth to this engaging drama that calls to mind Kieslowski’s plain-speaking realism, and relates tragic events without ever drifting into sentimentality. MT


Ten Thousand Suns | Tizezer nap (1965)

Dir.: Ferenc Kosa; Cast: Andras Kozar, Tibor Molnar, Janos Görbe, Bürös Gyöngi, Janos Kottai, Laszlo Nyers, Janos Rajz; Hungary 1967, 103 min.

Notable for its arthouse depiction of the fate of Hungarian peasantry in the last century, the central character Istvan Szeles comes to life in a portrait of vulnerability, humiliation, and social deprivation during Stalin’s collectivisation.

Five years in the making director/co-writer Ferenc Kosa started the project while still at film school and the finished result was his graduation film in 1965. It stayed on the back burner for two years while the authorities asked for changes  to be made – and were not keen about it being in the line-up at Cannes Film Festival in 1967, where it won Best Director. Needless to say, a ‘sanitised’ version later found its way onto cinema screens in Hungary.

The fractured narrative flips backwards and forwards, opening during collectivisation when a huge hydroglobus arrives in the village were Istvan (Molnar) lives with his family, just as his son (Kozar) is leaving to join the Navy. Istvan admits to having attempted suicide. He is a lonely man, an idealist at heart, caring more for his family than himself.

The action then returns to the titular ten thousand suns during the 1930s, when Istvan met his wife Juli (Gyöngi) while the two were working for the wealthy landowner Bakogh (Rajz). His close friend Fülöp (Kottai) follows him through the story, often getting them both into trouble, such as the time when they steal hay from the landowner so they can heat their meagre living conditions. Work is gruelling but they decide not to join a strike at the factory, preferring to put food on the table for their families. Their refusal to put down tools with the rest of the workers, along with their colleague Mihaly (Nyers), provokes an angry reaction and they are called ‘scabs’.

We jump forward to the period after the Second World War, after the first wave of collectivisation. Istvan and and Mihaly are angry about the authorities confiscating their grain. Fülöp becomes an ardent supporter of the Communist Party and its policies, Mihaly is then killed by a police officer and Istvan is accused of not having stopped the fight, and for the ‘theft’ of the grain. He is imprisoned in Recski, a copper mine used as a work camp. After his release, he returns to his village where Fülöp is now enjoying the privileges of a leading communist activist.

We then move to the time of the uprising in 1956 – which is called a ‘revolution’, something the censorship would not allow. Fülöp and three of his comrades find themselves in front of a firing squad and Istvan becomes a victim of clinical depression, and tries to hang himself. The censors would have preferred a much happier ending, but this one somehow gets through.

In its stark monochrome aesthetic, Ten Thousand Suns is strikingly beautiful, shot by Sandor Sara, with whom Kosa would go on to develop a long collaboration, as he did with his  writer Sandor Csoori. Despite the harsh subject matter, Kosa and Sara find a symbolic way of developing a poetic realist style which goes much farther than a pure critique of the Stalinist state.

Ten Thousand Suns, Tízezer nap, director: Ferenc Kósa, 1965 – with English subtitles | WITH KIND PERMISSION OF THE HUNGARIAN CULTURAL CENTRE LONDON | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2020

Ruben Brandt, Collector (2018) **** Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Milorad Krstic; Animation with the voices of Ivan Kamaras, Gabriella Hamori, Zalan Makranczi; Hungary 2018, 96 min.

Milorad Krstic (66), director, designer and script-writer of his debut animation feature, won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlinale in 1995. Premiering here at Locarno Film Festival Ruben Brandt is mostly hand-drawn with some CG elements and very much resembles in style and narrative of the recent Folimage animation feature A Cat in Paris , even though the tone is much darker.

Psychotherapist Ruben Brandt (Kamaras) suffers from dreams and hallucinations: He is attacked by figures from famous paintings like Velazquez’ “Infanta Margarita” and Botticelli’s “Venus”. Nevertheless, Brandt goes on treating his four patients, through role-plays of stories such as Little Riding Hood. They are all highly skilled burglars; so is Mimi (Hamori), who puts Ruben’s plan into action; he wants to possess thirteen famous paintings, so Mimi heads first to the Paris Louvre, hotly pursued by detective Kowalski (Makranczi), who has been hired by various insurance companies, who put a 100million dollar bounty on Ruben’s head. But Brandt becomes increasingly desperate, his dreams growing ever more violent. We see little Ruben, his neurologist father making him watch cartoons, a favourite is Rusalocka in “The Little Mermaid”. The thieves embark on a world cruise to steal Van Gogh’s “Postman Roulin”, Titan’s “Venus of Urbino” and Picasso’s “Woman with Book”, visiting the Uffizzi, the Hermitage, Tate and MoMA. There are flying cats, and the pictures start to interact with Ruben. In the Pantheon, Ruben is asked to participate in a Western duel, before being whisked off in a plane to Arles in Provence. Matters become even more complicated it emerges that Kowalski is Ruben’s half-brother. Their father Gerhardt was a Stasi spy who defected to the USA and worked for the CIA on neurological research. He has just died, and Kowalski’s mother tells his son, “ I had to leave your father, so you could have your own dreams”. Ruben meanwhile is meeting the painter Renoir, and is trying to unravel his father’s life. After a wild hunt, when the six are hunted down by two oil-tankers and a helicopter, the chase ends in Tokyo, during the attempted theft of the last painting, Warhol’s “Double Elvis”.

On one level Ruben Brandt is a haunt caper, one the other a trip through European film history from ‘Caligari’, Eisenstein, Hitchcock to Wenders. Krstic is clear about his intentions: “To be haunted by ghosts or zombies in nightmares is a cliché, it’s more exciting to be haunted by Velázquez’s ‘Infanta Margarita’ or Botticelli’s ‘Venus.” And paraphrasing Godard he explains his aesthetic concept: “For me drawing is imagination, and animated film is imagination twenty-four times a second.” His attempt at an ‘audio-visual symphony’ might be strange at times, but is always fascinating, and even in its most absurd moments Ruben Brandt is utterly compelling. A unique, magical, trippy experience, a throwback to the Sixties with its echoes of Pink Panther.


1945 (2017) ***

Dir: Ferenc Török | Cast: Péter Rudolf, Bence Tasnádi, Tamás Szabó Kimmel, Dóra Sztarenki, Ági Szirtes, József Szarvas | Drama | Hungary 2017 | 91 min

Best known for his 2001 comedy drama Moscow Square, Ferenc Török has continued to hone his skills in TV work in his native Hungary. His latest film is an unsettling war-themed drama that takes place on the Hungarian puszta during the blistering heat of August 1945 where the local chemist is getting ready for his son’s wedding. In the sleepy afternoon torpor, two strange men arrive on the scene – and no one is glad to see them. As news of the Sámuels’ arrival seeps through the streets like a bad odour, these orthodox Jewish men dressed in black walk solemnly behind a horse drawn carriage, where their two wooden boxes – like children’s coffins – conceal a mysterious cargo. Clearly something has happened here that has left a sinister whiff of fear for all concerned, not least because of the local’s poor treatment of their Jewish neighbours during the war years. And as they past re-visits the present, the villagers know exactly why they should be scared.

Meanwhile, preparations for the evening wedding are underway. But the bride Kisrózsi (Dóra Sztarenki) is no virgin – she left her good-looking boyfriend Jancsi (Tamás Szabó Kimmel) to pursue a better offer from Arpad, who owns the profitable chemist store. But Arpad’s mother Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy) has rumbled her and is well aware that Kisrózsi and Jancsi are still lovers. This appears to be a community seething in hatred, mistrust and envy, that comes from the outside and from within as they tolerate the constant strain of Soviet occupation.

The tone is very much like that of a darkly comic Midsommer Murders, as the Samuels’ tale intriguingly unfolds amidst a climate of fear and doom. Török and co-writer Gábor T. Szántó base their narrative on Homecoming, a short story where a guilty village serves as a metaphor for national shame, with each character determined to keep their secret in the face of the enemy they have wronged. DoP Elemér Ragályi’s beguiling black and white visuals recreate the 1940s in a mystery that relies on its ominous atmosphere and the strength of its performances, rather than dialogue, to tell a tale of vengeance and dishonour in post war Hungary.MT




My 20th Century (1989) Bfi Player

Writer/Dir: Ildiko Enyedi | Cast: Dorota Segda, Oleg Yankoskiy, Paulus Manker, Gabor Mate, Peter Andorai | Drama | Hungary/West Germany | 104′ 

Enyedi’s intoxicating sensual concoction trips lightly but engagingly over one of the most fascinating and transformative periods in world history – the dawn of the 20th century, seen from the intriguing feminist perspective of two Eastern Europeans, identical twins Dora and Lili, who are born in a simple country household on the evening Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb in 1880. With technology rapidly advancing, could women’s rights ever hope to keep pace?

The orphaned identical twins will take completely different paths in life to discover a world dominated by men where they both nevertheless manage to thrive through their guile and intelligence. One becomes the enticing courtesan/mistress of Oleg Yankoskiy’s Capitalist Z, the other plays take the road less travelled as a radical revolutionary militant. Dorota Segda plays both women in a delicate tour de force that embraces the different possibilities now open to womenkind in a brave new world where their increased agency offers a sense of hope at the turn of the century. She shows how women can succeed if they really put their mind to it.

Still only 34 at the time, Enyedi’s complex but languid fractured narrative seems to amplify the film’s dramatic potential while DoP Tibor Máthé’s sumptuous visual wizardry pays filmic tribute to cinema itself, with the support from the Hamburg Film Board.

Russian star Oleg Yankovsky (Nostalghia) provides romantic support to both women in the lead male role – his slightly exotic looks adding allure to the convincing love scenes. He plays the enigmatic Z. The magical elan of this fairytale-style is further enhanced by twinkling stars and a tinkly original score from Laszlo Vidovszky.

The thematically rich storyline features a variety of animals: a dog in a laboratory sees a vision of the future; a zoo-bound chimpanzee describes how it came to be captured. There is a definite sense of wonder, euphoria and discovery that reflects the true avant-garde nature of the early 1900s – never has art or culture been so radically ground-breaking in the intervening years.

Imaginative and endlessly fascinating to watch this extraordinary debut won Enyedi the Camera D’Or at Cannes in 1989. She continues to experiment on a more realistic but visionary level with On Body and Soul that won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2017 and just recently at with the overlong but admirable Story of My Wife (2021). MT

4K restoration of MY 20TH CENTURY made possible by BFI awarding funds from National Lottery.




Tegnap | Hier (2018) **** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Writer/Dir: Balint Kenyeres | Cast: Vlad Ivanov | Thriller | 119′

Hungarian filmmaker Balint Kenyeres is best known for his Cannes awarded short film Before Dawn and The History Of Aviation which opened the Directors’ Fortnight in 2009.

In this paradoxical psychological thriller Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov (Toni Erdmann/Sunset) plays Victor Ganz, an architect/builder who fetches up in North Africa on a business trip that will lead him into a place of unreliable memories and exotic characters. Slowly he plunges into a labyrinthine world where present and past collide, as the future gradually closes in on him – or so it would initially seem.

In HIER Hungarian auteur Balint Kenyeres creates a scenario where a seemingly decent businessman travels to an exotic country where nothing is what it appears to be. On his arrival at the bustling port Victor cuts a reassuringly suave figure at the wheel of his Swiss registered black Range Rover on route to a 5-star hotel through the shabby streets of the souk. He gives short shrift to the locals, throwing his weight around with the local cultural attaché and barks orders to his staff back home on a mobile ‘phone. On the face of it, he is the sophisticated European on a mission connected to some property he bought many years ago on a previous visit. After the affairs of the day, he retreats into the shady backstreet where the local bar The offers lives music of a chance to ‘kick back’ with an old acquaintance. But this is where the mood changes and grows more sinister as echoes of the past flood back to a long-lost lover who has mysteriously disappeared. At this point, we assume that Victor is going through some kind of mid-life crisis, as he will never be the same again. Or is the the real man emerging from behind the soigné persona. After making probing inquiries, a scuffle breaks out and Victor wakes the next morning in a building site being robbed by two young boys who make off with his wallet. Injured and empty handed, he makes his way to the villa of another old friend who sets him up with fresh clothes and the briefcase left behind on his last visit. But on the way to the airport his cranky old bus breaks down and leaves him stranded in the middle of nowhere. Perpetually making telephone calls home, Victor promises to be on the next plane home but there is no urgency in his desire to leave, the search for his old lover propelling the narrative further and further into remote corners of the desert as he desperately questions each random contact for information that may lead to the mysterious woman.

HIER is a strange and beguiling thriller with a tense undertow that makes it watchable and compelling. Shooting in Super 16, Kenveres achieves just the right grainy 90s feel without it being a retro affair. The essence of the story lies with the character of Victor, and gradually we start to question his motives. Apart from being unlikeable and difficult to connect with, he lacks conviction as a businessman or an architect, for that matter, once he moves away from the respectable surroundings of his comfortable hotel. Initially we believe in Victor: he seems plausible enoug and businesslike, going about his days with a sense of purpose. But gradually Victor becomes an unreliable witness to proceedings, an antihero unable to stick to his timetable or even stand by his word, let alone his memory. He brushes people up the wrong way, continually oversleeps and is deceitful to his partner waiting for him at home: He is the proverbial ‘man with feet of clay’; and whilst we identify with his situation, we certainly don’t identify with the way he handles it, driven by a near psychotic desire to uncover the past and obsessed with this enigmatic woman who he names ‘Sonia”. Kenyeres’ script continually subverts our expectations in his paradoxical film. The characters Victor meets in his alien surroundings prove to be increasingly more solid and reliable than he is: an old doctor who kindly stitches up his wounds; a professor researching into hyaenas and a friendly shopkeeper who finally puts him on the right trail. But Victor rewards the kindness of these strangers with truculence – even stealing the professor’s jeep – as his behaviour deteriorates into a state of lust-crazed psychosis. The enigmatic denouement is left to the imagination, making it even more powerful as the antihero is finally trounced by the very people he previously held in disdain. It’s an inventive idea for a story and Kenyeres pulls off. He raises vital questions about social stereotypes and the human condition – can we really reliably connect, identify and compare our own experiences with those of another person? And this is the crux of this unusual and compelling existential thriller. MT


Blossom Valley (2018) **** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Laszlo Csuja; Cast: Reti Laszlo, Berenyi Bianca, Kozma Karoly; Hungary 2018, 83 min.

The original Hungarian title of Laszlo Csuja’s debut drama is symbolic: Viragvölgy is the last stop on a children’s railway that runs through Buda Heights and the woods near Budapest.

BLOSSOM VALLEY’s impressive cast of non-professionals, Laszlo Reti (a former Special Olympics skating champion) and Bianka Berenyi) performer and lead singer of Cannibal EU are largely the reason why this eerie, melancholic and angst-ridden road fairytale won the Grand Jury Price of the ‘East – West Section” of this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Just for the hell of it, feisty Bianka (Bianka Berényi) has decided to kidnap a baby but she soon meets young Laci (László Réti), who provides a calming influence despite having been declared mentally unfit to make his own decisions. The couple and their new baby settle into a family unit of sorts and – after stealing a caravan – the police are soon in hot pursuit of the trio.

Bianca is a borderline sociopath who loves nothing more than attention and mischief. Like Laci, she has issues with regressive development, but unlike him – naïve and wanting to please – she has a certain malice, which is hidden behind a childlike demeanour. Her attention span is limited, she must be entertained and worshiped permanently. Contrary to her ex-boyfriends, who see her at a nuisance, Laci adores her non-stop, accepting most of her changing moods.

Mentored by Enyedi Ildico (On Body and Soul, last year’s Berlinale winner), Csuja, very much like Enyedi, goes all out to achieve a frightening atmosphere managing the film’s tonal shifts with surprising dexterity and adding a punk rock twist to the mix. The baby – played by two sets of twins, one actually named Laura – is in constant danger, but the ‘parents’ are too focused on themselves, even though there are some moments of closeness and intimacy. The impulsive Bianca and the love smitten Laci are always a step away from disaster.

Gergely Vass’s images are full of saturated colours, the scenes in the countryside are full of magic and the car journey’s a nightmare, but there are moments of grim social realism too. All said and done though, this zany drama belongs to the leading actors. MT


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