Posts Tagged ‘Hungarian cinema’

Treasure City | Bekeido (2020)

Director: Hajdu Szabolcs; Cast: Abel Krocovay, Orsolya Töth, Arpad Schilling, Fanni Wrochna; Hungary/Romania 2020, 92 min.

Hungary has lost the will to live according to Hajdu Szabolcs (The Gambler) who looks at the lives of a handful of disorientated Hungarians struggling to make sense of it all.

Demonstrators are seen clashing with police, while opposition activists accuse Victor Orban’s semi-fascist government of rising violence and mass immigration. Weirder still, Treasure City is actually set in the Romanian city city of Cluj-Napoca.

A subtle mix of nocturnal urban tales Treasure City pictures the dark side of sexual, political and romantic relationships. Dorottya (Wrochna) is accused by her female boss of lying and incompetence and begs for another chance. A row breaks out in a florists where Alma (Töth) and her daughter Johanna (Palfi) insults the female shop assistant with an unprovoked, racist attack, apologising profusely when the worker phones the police

In Treasure City one event connects to another in a post-covid metaphor exposing anger, frustration and inertia. Life is no worse than it was, in the 21st century there are just many more ways to complain about it all. And the pandemic has pushed everyone to the brink emotionally and physically, the gulf widening between native and foreigner, rich and poor, teen and parent. Even friendships have suffered as we are pushed into banal backwaters stifled of creativity, the window of freedom turned into a mirror focussing on our own inadequacies and shortcomings.

Essentially a series of twenty two interconnecting storylines Treasure City is really a metaphor for our post-covid world, exposing the anger, frustration and inertia.

DoP Banto Csaba uses magic realism to create a nightly universe of turmoil, misunderstandings and emotional frustration. Treasure City is very much a case of Bunuel meets Michael Haneke: not for everyone, but the committed will certainly enjoy themselves. AS



The Toth Family | Isten Hozta Örnagy (1969)

Dir.: Zoltan Fabri (1917-1994); Cast: Zoltan Latinovits, Imre Sinkovits, Marta Fonay, Vera Venczel; Hungary 1969, 95 min.

Zoltan Fabri’s amusing dramatic farce serves as a well-veiled metaphor for Stalinism. Adapting from Istvan Orkeny’s novel ‘Totek’, the Hungarian director was first and foremost a humanist whose films successfully smuggled their subversive subtexts through the censors as here in this lively social satire that couldn’t really offend anyone.

It all takes place during 1942 in a village in Northern Hungary where the peaceful existence of the Toth family comes to an abrupt end with the arrival of their son’s regimental superior, on sick leave. Father Lajos (Sinkovits) the naive head of the fire brigade, his plump wife Mariska (Fonay) and their doting daughter Agika (Venczel) find themselves lodging and entertaining the paranoid war-weary Major Ornagy (Latinovits), catering to his every whim in a bid to promote their son’s army career.

The major really is in a state: the slightest noise makes him jump as he imagines enemy soldiers at every corner and mistakes nighttime shadows for trenches, desperate to avoid them. In an effort to exert control over the locals he puts in place a laborious new system the villages must adhere to involving a series of boxes. Agika develops a crush as chaos reigns and the mentally impaired village postman Gyuri mislays the family’s post, including a letter of vital importance leading to the film’s dramatic finale.

The Toth Family has aged well: its Brechtian narrative serves the farcical content well – the family forced into a futile labour of love while the major is blissfully unaware of the havoc his demanding behaviour is causing. The output of useless boxes is the only direct connection to every-day live under Stalinism, where production of everything but consumer goods was the mantra of the system.

DoP Györgi Illes painterly images and saturated prime colours give the film a traditional, almost fairytale feel. Fabri’s classical approach helped him package his messages discretely – never attracting the same negative attention from the authorities as Miklòs Janscò with his eye-catching modernist style. But the death of Communism also marked the end of Fabri’s output. His final feature Housewarming was made in 1983. AS


The Corporal and the Others | A Tizedes meg a Tobbiek (1965) ****

Dir: Marton Keleti | Wri: Imre Dobozi | Cast: Tamas Major, Imre Sinkovits, Laszlo Kozak, Ivan Darvas | Drama, Hungarian 108′

The Corporal and the Others is an anti-communist comedy and a satirical take on outside forces occupying Hungary during the Second World War. It was of course made during Soviet occupation so uses metaphor to escape the censors.

Although Hungary was technically on the same side at Germany, having relied on on the nation to pull it out of the Great Depression, The Corporal portrays the relationship as deeply farcical despite the soberness of its subject matter. And this deadpan humour is what makes it all so amusing, emphasised by the film’s upbeat score.

Imre Dobozi’s script was obviously going to make the film a crowd pleaser for Hungarian audiences, but Keleti’s direction is also laudable with some extraordinary set pieces featuring snow-swept battle scenes, and a sneering central performance from Imre Sinkovits ( Ferenc Smolnar) as the corporal himself. At the Hungarian Film Week, the most important film festival in its homeland, the film bagged him best actor and garnered critical acclaim sweeping the board in 1966. A great comedy then, but not a masterpiece. A metaphor for Hungary always being under occupation, each of the characters represents a cliche of sorts: Major is the distinguished Englishman, Sinkovits, the upstart an so on.

Marton Keleti is not well known outside his homeland unlike Bela Tarr; Istvan Szabo; Sandor Kovacs; Zoltan Fabri or Milos Jancso. On account of being Jewish, Keleti was actually banned from making films during the war years but he certainly addressed the balance with a decent output of fifty films, starting in 1937 with Viki, and taking up in the immediate aftermath to the war with A Tanitono (1945). Possibly his most notable achievement outside Hungary was his Palme d’Or hopeful Ket Vallomas (Two Wishes, 1957) which came home empty handed despite a wonderful central performance from Hungarian star of the time Mari Torocsik.

The Corporal and the Others sees the German Fascists plan their exit from Hungary at the end of the war (1944-45) only to be replaced by the Russians Soviet troops. In the ensuing mayhem, deserting Hungarian soldiers and are just trying to avoid being killed, including those from the special Fascist wing under Ferenc Szalasi.

Molnar is stuck in a deserted country house (which is still being run by the butler Albert (Tamas Major/Colonel Redl) having stolen the money to pay his fellow comrades in arms. But unbeknown to Molnar, other deserters are also in residence: Imre Gaspar (Laszlo Kozak) and Gyorgy Fekete (Gyula Szabo) to name but a few.

There is nothing heroic about any of these characters, in fact most are actually cowards, making things all the more hilarious, as heroism is the last thing on their minds, and they duck and dive like chameleons in company of their enemies, constantly changing uniforms to mask their real identity. And this was the crux of the comedy: Hungarians often joking about having to change uniforms to reflect its history of being occupied, first by the Turks, then by the Austrians, Germans and finally the Russian Communists who radar Keleti was keen to escape. MT


Narcissus and Psyché | Nárcisz és Psyché (1980) *****

Dir: Gábor Bódy | Fantasy drama, Hungarian, 261′

Hungarian director Bódy Gábor, (1946-1985, Budapest), was a provocateur and pioneer of the Hungarian ‘New Sensibility’ film movement whose controversial arthouse features garnered critical success at home and abroad where he won an award at Locarno for this dreamlike Avantgarde masterpiece completed in 1980, a few years before his death by suicide in 1985.

Adapted for the screen with writers Vilmos Csaplar and Vera Varga, Narcissus and Psyche is based on Hungarian poet Sándor Weöres’s Psyché (1972), an anthology of letters and poems by a fictional 19th-century female poet Erzsebet Lonyai (aka Psyche played by Patricia Adriani ). The arthouse drama is full of surrealistic elements, philosophical symbolism and visual experimentation with the use of slow-mo; time lapse sequences; hypnotic sex scenes; motion trails; and colour filters, it spans a century (between the Napoleonic wars and the Second World War,) yet is miraculously condensed into a lifetime experience exploring Psyche’s enduring love for Narcissus (a blond haired Udo Kier). Their affair is often ambivalent but never consummated and withstands a lifetime of influences from other relationships, sexual disease and tragedy. 

This mesmerising tour de force is extraordinary to look at and was shot by renowned cinematographer Istvan Hildebrand with a score by My Twentieth Century composer Laszlo Vidovskzky that feels both modern and classical. With a running time of nearly four hours, the epic is told in three parts. There are striking slo-mo love scenes set to harpsichord music that draw us into the action yet remain intimate and erotically poetic. Other love-making sequences feel more remote and salacious, such as the one set by a blazing fire while stoats and wild animals roam around the vast stone-floored bedroom of an enchanted castle, where later a ballroom scene sees dancers swirling around in a 3D style masterstroke. 

One elicit scene features the Pope pulling up his trousers after enjoying a blowjob from a young male courtier. He then gives an audience which is filmed from underneath the glass floor to reveal the sparkling soles of his diamanté slippers. Psyche herself emerges a sultry and tousled haired beauty, always ready for a new liaison she is libidinous and licentious and runs the gauntlet of male attraction much to the chagrin of Narcissus who suffers from syphilis contracted from gypsies earlier on in his life. Psyche is seduced, used and lusted after – in an inspired and lyrical depiction of life for most attractive women, even today. Narcissus remains her soulmate, teacher and friend but she is forced to marry an indifferent nobleman and this plot line is the thread that runs through this jewel-like richly textured tapestry. MT




Marta Meszaros | Retro | Bergamo Film Meeting 2021

Márta Mészáros occupies a unique position in Hungarian and world film history. The director, Kossuth and Prima Prize laureate, winner of awards at the Berlinale, Chicago, Cannes and many other international film festivals, is in herself a historical legend. Together with her contemporaries Agnès Varda, Larisa Shepitko e Věra Chytilová, she ranks as one of the most significant female authors in the world.

She is the first Hungarian woman to be awarded a diploma in film directing, she has dedicated her movies to depicting the lives of women (their identity, deviance, female rebelliousness, erotic intimacy and Hungarian history of Stalinism), and her directorial debut attracted global attention.

Even as a young child she had struggled with being orphaned, with hunger and the vicissitudes of history. She was born in Budapest in 1931. Her father, the avant-garde sculptor László Mészáros, in fleeing fascism moved the family to Kirgizia, where on the outbreak of World War II he fell victim to Stalin’s purges. Her mother also died. She was placed in a Soviet orphanage and only returned to Hungary after the war.

Between 1954-56 she studied at the film academy in Moscow and until 1968 she made Romanian and Hungarian documentaries. These autobiographical motifs inspired the Diary series that garnered considerable international acclaim.

Diary for my Children (Naplo Gyermekeimnek) Hungary 1983, 106 min.

Hungarian writer/director Marta Meszaros (*1931) chronicles a decade of Hungarian social history (1947-1958) in this autobiographical trilogy of just under six hours, where she is represented by the teenage character Juli. Meszaros actually made a fourth feature, Little Vilma (Kisvilma – az utolso naplo) in 2000, which runs along similar lines but its realisation differs from the original format. Of the three Diary for my Children is by far the most impressive, winning the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in the year of its making. The colour versions of Diary for my Lovers and Diary for my Mother and Father, descends into simplicity, with Meszaros losing her objective documentarian’s viewpoint. All three parts were shot by DoP Nyika Jansco, her husband Miklos Jansco’s son from a previous relationship before their marriage which lasted from 1960 to 1973.    

In 1947, teenage Juli (Czinkoczi) arrives in Budapest from exile in Moscow to stay with her foster mother Magda (Polony), and her grandparents (Pal Zolnay/Mari Szemes). Magda is a member of the Communist Party, courageously opposing Nazism and Stalin, but recently her opinions of the Communist set-up have softened. Most of her friends have mixed views about her political affiliations. Old friend Janos (Nowicki) disagrees with her stance, her flatmate Judith Kardos (Margitai) more or less supports her. Juli’s mother died during the war, and her sculptor father had been imprisoned during one of the purges in the late 1930s. So she takes a dim view of Stalin, suspecting he may have had a hand in her father’s ‘disappearance’. The dynamic of these relationships forms the rich backcloth to this intimate character study.

Juli idolises Janos as a father figure. In her dream sequences, Janos actually becomes her father, working in a huge quarry. Much later, when Janos is married to Ildi (Bansagi), she also is the same person as her mother in Juli’s dreams. Not one for school, Juli does steals Magda’s cinema pass and discovers the classics: She identifies with Greta Garbo in ‘Mata Hari’, and make a fancy dress of her idol. But Juli has a harsh side, treating her boyfriend meanly by refusing to sleep with him. Janos gets arrested for “sabotage” in the factory he is working in, but he buys his freedom, denouncing a co-worker – and also relying on Magda’s help “for the sake of the old days”. Finally, Juli is thrown out of the school and has to work in a factory before she moves out of Magda’s flat, to live with Janos and his son (Toth), who has to spend his days in a wheelchair.

Diary for my Lovers (Napok Szerelmeinnek) Hungary 1987, 141 min.

Diary for my Lovers starts in 1953 and explores her sexual forays in Moscow. Juli has gone back to school and is chosen (with some help by Magda) to study economics but then has a change of heart, talking the Russians into letting her swop places with a young Hungarian whose dream to be an economist gives her the opportunity realise her own wish to become a filmmaker. At film school she meets the glamorous actress Anna Pavlova (Kouberskaya), who has a relationship with an older and senior party functionary. She also discovers how her father met his fate and angered by the revelations she decides to go home when the  1956 revolution breaks out in Hungary, despite becoming emotionally close to Janos and his son. Back in Budapest Magda has joined the security forces is nearly lynched during public unrest.  by the revolting citizens. Ildi asks Juli to flee to Vienna with Janos “and keep him there.” But they end up in Budapest.

Part three, A Diary for my Mother and Father (Naplo Apamnak, Anyamnak) Hungary 1990, 119 min.

This begins with a New Year’s Eve party in Magda’s flat, celebrating the end of a traumatic 1956. Magda and the Party have regained power after the Russian invasion, and Juli, who is working for the newsreel section of he Party, comes to blows with her mother. Janos is now part of an independent worker’s union in the factory, and convinces his co-workers not to give in to the regime, and continue their strike. But this all ends in a gruelling drawn-out tragedy

Meszaros combines the opposing forms of documentary and fiction, the film’s aesthetic and narrative becomes a notion of film as art, entertainment and record. The quasi documentary style and the inclusion of archive footage is a clear reflection of earlier Meszaros films. And this is all conveyed in the subtle acting performances, which remind us of Rossellini’s work in Italian Neo-Realism. We become attached observers, looking in from the outside as flies on the wall catching snippets of conversation at the dinner table, when working conditions in the factories are discussed, before Juli escapes into her dream world. There is a quietly devastating sequence with Juli sitting alone in the room after her grandfather has scolded her for bring up the story of her father’s tragic disappearance. A recurring dream imagine her father in the quarry; and we even get a glimpse of her as a child – her voice echoing as she calls for her father. Lacking a family in the traditional sense, she invents her own: as one where only Janos will discuss the past. Juli’s real world is the cinema.

Zsuzsa Czinkoczi gives an astounding performance considering she was only fifteen-years old when the film was shot. She dream-walks through the six hours, never putting a foot wrong. Subtly evoking tone and pace, and her life and circumstances change. Anna Polony’s Magda is a study in ambivalence. Both she and Juli somehow need each for a time: Juli to get to film school, Magda to repress her guilt regarding the death of Juli’s father. But they start out more or less on an even footing: life choices see them move farther apart. The truth here is that any totalitarian regime – rather like a religion- is extremely demanding of its believers, Magda becoming someone she didn’t set out to be. The only way out is total emotional rejection of the status quo, which Juli achieves in the end – but not before she entertained the idea of a silent truce with the system.

Whilst Meszaros always refused to be called a feminist, she was one of the first women directors who won major awards, and she was the first ever female filmmaker to win the Golden Bear in Berlin 1975, for Adoption. AS





Somewhere in Europe (1947) Valahol Europaban

Wri|Dir: Radvanyi Geza | Hungarian, Drama 101′

At the end of the Second World War Eastern Europe was in a terrible state with orphaned, homeless children roving aimlessly around the countryside and on the banks of the Danube. These starving and abandoned kids get together and form a gang as they gradually lose their humanity and sense of decency in this remarkable black and white drama from Hungarian director Radvanyi.

Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, this visually thrilling Agitprop was financed by the Hungarian Communist Party and released in 1948 when the country was already fully committed to the new regime. With its crisp framing crisp framing and chiaroscuro lighting the film conjures up the pervasive desperation bordering on mania of these deprived kids,

Somewhere in Europe was considered the first triumph of Hungarian cinema in the aftermath to the War, it certainly trumps Ken Loach’s sloppily put together propaganda outing I, Daniel Blake and avoids sarcasm in favour of a message of solidarity – though quite why the French National anthem features here is a mystery. The early scenes are largely silent and set to Szabolc Fenyes’ rousing orchestral score which highlights moments of tension throughout, although the melodrama remarkably restrained, even when tragedy strikes. The cast of child non-pros give naturalistic performances that are convincing and really moving. And there is a subtle love story that plays out between Hosszu and Eva (Szusza Bánki), a young woman who reveals her tragic past in flashback.

Led by their gang leader Hosszu (Miklós Gábor), the kids discover an abandoned castle where a middle-aged conductor Simon Peter (Artur Somlay) is hiding in solitude waiting for peace . After trying to hang Peter – the kids are like something out of Animal Farm such is their starvation – they gradually befriend him while he serenades them with piano classics, persuading them to mend the leaking roof. He also teaches them the lessons of life.

United in a common cause, and reminding us that Europe is still in flux migration wise, they eventually join forces in defending the castle against a group of villagers who call Peter the ‘mad musician’ and plot to storm the castle with disastrous consequences for the kids and their new leader. Despite its sinister overtones, the film carries a message of hope that proves that a community spirit and small acts of kindness are the always the way forward, and can actually lead to redemption, even during Communism!. MT

AVAILABLE ONLINE BY KIND PERMISSION OF THE HUNGARIAN CULTURAL CENTRE LONDON | Somewhere in Europe, Valahol Európában, 1947, director: Géza Radványi – with English subtitles

Sunset (2019) *****

Dir.: Laszlo Nemes; Cast: Juli Jacob, Oszkar Brill, Evelin Dubos, Marcin Czarnik, Julia Jakubowska, Christian Harting, Susanne Wuest; France/Hungary 2018, 142 min.

Director/co-writer Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph of Son of Saul with a reconstruction of a world that has disappeared: Set in Budapest in 1913, it shows a city of complex contradictions: there are the cultural and aesthetic high points of fashion, architecture, music and philosophical ideas which gave Budapest the name of “Paris of the East” – but next to it existed another world: violent nationalism, which would erupt in in Sarajewo with the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand in 1914, changing the face of Europe forever. Against the backdrop of this pre-war cauldron a girl is growing up.

A long opening shot leads us into this labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust. Arriving from Triest, young Irisz Leiter (Jacob) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos, gradually becomes more clear, as Irisz infiltrates the spider web, trying to piece together the answers to her own life.

An orphan, she left Budapest at the age of two after her parents’ death in a mysterious fire at their famous Leiter hat atelier, now run by the enigmatic manager Oszkar Brill (Ivanov). He rebuffs her plea for a job at first, but she inveigles her way into the company, aided by Brill’s haughty assistant Zelma (Dubos). Irisz uses the Leiter hat saloon as a base to look for her enigmatic brother Kalman, who has joined the Hungarian nationalists and is in hiding, purportedly having murdered Count Redey. Irisz discovers that Countess Redey (Jakubowska) was the victim of her sadistic husband, whose brother is still torturing her. But when she finally catches a glimpse of Kalman during a street riot, she is appalled to to find out he is the gang-leader in a group of violent mobsters, and tries to kill him. But Brill is equally guilty: Irisz discovers that he has been grooming his milliners to serve as courtesans to influential clients at the Vienna court – Zelma is intended to be his next victim, because she knows too much. But before he can realise his wicked plan, Kalman Leiter and his nationalist are on the rampage. Sunset ends in the trenches of the First World War, in a 65 mm epilogue, a tribute to Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.  

Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, echo in Sunset. On an historical level Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siecle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpiece. In contrast, Nemes sets his epic in Budapest (and not in the countryside) conveying the crumbling decadence in the urban splendour There is surreal horror in the street scenes – characters spring out of the shadows like animals – or even vampires. After dark utter chaos rules. As daylight dawns, the Habsburg police try to enforce order. Irisz emerges as ‘Alice’, but her wonderland is uncertain and menacing. Courage and a strong sense of her innate dignity will see her through, but her place in the world will be destroyed forever in a narrative that very much chimes with today’s sense of cultural identity. Sunset is an everlasting testament to the past, the present and our own uncertain future. A masterpiece that might need more than one viewing. AS/MT



Lajko in Space (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018


Dir.: Balazs Lengyel; Cast: Tamas Keresztes, JozsefGyabronka, Tibor Pallfy, Anna Boger, Bohdan Benink; Hungary 2018, 90 min.

Director/co-writer Balazs Lengyel shows no fear: his satire about the first man is Space – of course, a Hungarian, not Gagarin, as claimed by the Soviets – is a relentless attack on Stalinism, but the re-write of history is always funny, even if not always done in the best taste.

Young Lajko, a gypsy growing up in the Hungarian country site, has always been interested in Space travel. Unfortunately, one of his first attempts sends his Mum into space, together with the outdoor toilet. As a young man Lajko (Keresztes) has designed a moored balloon to take him into the stratosphere – but he ignores the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and is shot down by the Red Army. He is the victim of waterboarding, but his torturer has shot through too much money over the previous year, and is put in prison. Lajko can count on the help of his father Florian (Pallfy) and uncle Jeno (Gyabronka), the latter a party functionary. The three are sent to Baku, where the Soviet Space programme is being developed. Lajko has to compete with a Mongolian monk, a Baltic counter-revolutionary and Helga Mengele (Boger) to be the first one in Space. Helga is very upset, that “the good name of her father is by now forgotten”, even though he created ten different prototypes of an Aryan super-woman – of which she is the only survivor. When Brezhnev (Benink) arrives at the Space station, Florian steals his ring, and Jeno falls in love with the Soviet leader, admitting that he is gay for the first time. Lajko finally wins the race to be the first man in Space; meeting his mother there in the process. Needless to say, the beastly Russians put Lajko, Florian and Helga in a work camp (so that Gagarin can claim to be the winner), and poor uncle Jeno is shot dead, having just come to terms with being gay.

This is a romp, sometimes crude, but always enjoyable. DoPGyorgy Reder is very inventive, using different formats for the historical scenes, sometimes speeding up the tempo, like in silent movies. It is obvious that everyone had fun shooting this feature, and Lengyel always manages to keep the careering plot on the road. AS



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