Hungary



INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS: 1963–1989

By 1963 an overall pattern had emerged under which directors were allowed considerable latitude in subject matter and style, provided they did not directly challenge the government's authority and steered clear of controversial treatment of the 1956 revolution. Although the finest films of this period were rarely box office successes within Hungary, the government promoted and supported them for the cultural prestige they earned abroad, especially at major film festivals, and also out of a genuine respect for their artistry. They were adequately funded, and comparatively few films were banned; the most notorious example, the satire on 1950s bureaucracy, A Tanú ( The Witness , Péter Bácsó, 1969), was finally released ten years later.

The films of this period fall mainly into two groups: the so-called parables, which took some historical incident from Hungary's past and interpreted it so that it had clear affinities with the present day, and films set in the present, which offered cautious criticism of the gulf between official rhetoric and the often grim realities of Hungarian life. One way or another, almost all the major films had a political as well as a private dimension, as in the early, semiautobiographical films of István Szabó (b. 1938), such as Á lmodozások kora ( The Age of Daydreaming , also known as Age of Illusions , 1964) and Apa ( Father , 1966), which the director himself described as "the autobiography of a generation."

The strongest international impact in the 1960s was made by Miklós Jancsó (b. 1921). Films like Szegénylegények ( The Round-Up , 1965), Csillagosok, katonák ( The Red and the White , 1967), and Mégkéranép ( Red Psalm , 1971), while often dealing with obscure incidents from Hungarian history, fascinated audiences elsewhere with their direct presentation of political oppression and brutality, the stark black-and-white photography of the earlier films, and the sinuously balletic, lengthy camera movements of the later ones. Istva Gaáńl's (b. 1933) powerful Magasiskola ( The Falcons , 1970) provided a more abstract, less historically specific allegory of the totalitarian mentality. The theme of collectivization—the forced transfer of individual peasant ownership of the land to collective farming—was handled with intelligence and objectivity by Sándoŕra (b. 1933) in Feldobott kö ( The Upthrown Stone , 1969) and, in visually spectacular but more ambiguous fashion, by Ferenc Kósa (b. 1937) in Tízezer nap ( Ten Thousand Days , 1967). Károly Makk's Szerelem ( Love , 1971) dealt movingly with the return home of a political prisoner in the early 1950s, while Hideg napok ( Cold Days , András Kovács, 1966) tackled head-on one of the most shameful Hungarian actions in World War II, the massacre of hundreds of Serb civilians by Hungarian soldiers in what is now Novi Sad.

A reorganization of production and loosened bureaucratic control in the 1970s brought new themes and approaches. The so-called Budapest School combined the revived interest in documentary with a fictional

MIKLÓS JANCSÓ
b. Vács, Hungary, 27 September 1921

Jancsó grew up in the Hungarian countryside and developed there an interest in folk art that exercised a strong influence on his films. He studied law and ethnography at the University of Kolozsvar and, after a period as a Soviet prisoner-of-war toward the end of World War II, he graduated from the Academy of Theater and Film Art in 1950.

His earliest films were documentaries that conformed to the official requirements of the period, and this was also largely true of his first two features. With Szegénylegények ( The Round-Up ) in 1965, however, he abandoned almost completely the dogmas of socialist realism both in theme and style. Set in the aftermath of the Hungarian War of Independence in 1848, it adopts the "Aesopian" tactics favored by directors of the time of using a period setting to comment obliquely on current political and social trends. This was followed by Csillagosok, katonák ( The Red and the White , 1967), set in postrevolutionary Russia in 1918, as small groups of pro- and anti-Soviet soldiers skirmished continuously. Csend és kiáltás ( Silence and Cry , 1967) is set in Hungary in 1919 following the suppression of the short-lived Communist government that seized power after the end of World War I. These films attracted international attention, despite their obscure (to non-Hungarians) subject matter, for their astonishing visual power and the universality of their themes. The cruelties, humiliations, and atrocities inflicted on their victims by those in power are presented in a cold, almost impersonal manner, controlled by rigorously formal framing and complex camerawork.

Over much of the next decade Jancsó divided his time between Hungary and Italy, producing a series of films that continued his investigations into the nature of repressive political power and how to resist it, while moving toward a style that is often purely symbolic and ritualistic, relying heavily on intricately choreographed and lengthy sequence shots. The finest film of this period is acknowledged to be Mégkéranép ( Red Psalm , 1971), set during a period of peasant agitation for land reform at the end of the nineteenth century.

With Szörnyek évadja ( Season of Monsters 1987) Jancsó moved to a contemporary setting and to visual motifs based on ubiquitous television screens that record the action and also present different perspectives on it. The themes of such films as Jézus Krisztus horoszkópja ( Jesus Christ's Horoscope , 1988) and Kék Duna keringö ( Blue Danube Waltz , 1992) challenge the assumption that freedom from Soviet control in the "New Hungary" will automatically end corruption and the abuse of political power. After returning to documentaries for most of the 1990s, Jancsó resumed feature filmmaking in 1998 with a series of satirical and anarchic comedies. These have proved the most popular of his films to date within Hungary, and the director has been adopted as a guide and inspiration by a new generation of filmmakers.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Így jöttem ( My Way Home , 1965), Szegénylegények ( The Round-Up , 1965), Csillagosok, katonák ( The Red and the White , 1967), Csend és katonák ( Silence and Cry , 1967), Fényes szelek ( The Confrontation , 1969), Mégkéranép ( Red Psalm , 1971), Szerelmem, Elektra ( Electra, My Love , 1974), Zsarnok szíve, avagy Boccaccio Magyarországon ( The Tyrant's Heart , also known as Il Cuore del tirrano , 1981), Jézus Krisztus horoszkópja ( Jesus Christ's Horoscope , 1988), Kék Duna keringö ( Blue Danube Waltz , 1992), Utolsó vacsora az Arabs Szürkénél ( Last Supper at the Arabian Grey Horse , 2001)

FURTHER READING

Bachman, Gideon. "Jancsó Plain." Sight and Sound 43 (Autumn 1974): 217–221.

Horton, Andrew James. "The Aura of History." Kinoeye 3, no. 3 (2003).

Houston, Penelope. "The Horizontal Man." Sight and Sound 38 (Summer 1969): 116–120.

Petrie, Graham. "Miklós Jancsó: Decline and Fall?" In Politics, Art and Commitment in the East European Cinema , edited by David W. Paul, 189–210. London: Macmillan, 1983.

——. Red Psalm . Trowbridge, Wiltshire, UK: Flicks Books (Cinetek series), 1998.

Graham Petrie

Miklós Jancsó.

approach to produce a series of "pseudodocumentaries" in which an actual incident was recreated using nonactors whose own lives resembled those of the original people involved. Filmregény (Film novel, IstvánDárday, 1977) is perhaps the best-known example of this style, which was also adopted in the early films of Béla Tarr (b. 1955), such as Családi tüzfészek ( Family Nest , 1979). Other trends of the period involved a closer examination of the 1950s and 1956 in particular, with PálGábor's (1932–1987) Angi Vera (1978), SzerencsésDániel ( Daniel Takes a Train , Pál Gábor's (1932–1987) Angi Vera (1978), Szerencsés Dániel ( Daniel Takes a Train, Pál Sándor, 1983), Péter Gothár's (b. 1947) Megáll az idö ( Time Stands Still , 1982), and the first of Márta Mészáros's (b. 1931) four Gotha "Diary" films, Napló gyermekeimnek ( Diary for My Children , 1984) enjoying considerable international success. Meanwhile, Szindbád ( Sindbad , Zoltán Huszárik, 1971), Meztelen vagy ( The Legend about the Death and Resurrection of Two Young Men , Imre Gyöngyössy, 1971), and Kutya éji dala (The Dog's Night Song, Gábor Body, 1983), though not ignoring social issues, presented them in dreamlike, almost surrealistic fashion. And controversial topics such as lesbianism and incest were broached in Makk's Egymásra nézve ( Another Way , 1982) and Visszaesök ( Forbidden Relations , Zsolt Ke Ga Kovár'ścs, 1983), respectively.

Increasing financial stringency throughout the 1980s led several directors to make co-productions with other European countries. With the exception of István Szabó's Central European trilogy, beginning with the Oscar ® -winning Mephisto (1981), few of these films were successful either financially or artistically.



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