Tuesday, December 22, 2015

HUNGARIAN CINEMA

Always looking for something different I stumbled on two Hungarian movies that got my attention.  I had previously seen a special feature with the Swedish movie "The 100-year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared" that discussed their preference for a film studio in Hungary.  Hungary has provided the background scenery for both Hollywood and European productions (supported by local expertise) that you may have enjoyed.

Hungary has a long history of cinema with screenings as early as 1896.  They developed skill levels such that leaving the country, Alexander Korda played a prominent role in British cinema and Michael Curtiz directed many Hollywood movies.  Adolph Zukor founded Paramount Pictures.

World War I disrupted progress and many fled the country.  Startng about 1935 anti-Semitic sentiments forced restrictions and ousting of Jewish participants.  Communism nationalized the movie industry.  By the early 1940's Hungary was ranked  the third largest film industry in Europe.  Censorship was an obstacle, but movies went on--won at Cannes

The 1956 Revolution clamped down, but didn't stop films being made, sometimes with subtle criticisms of the government.  In 1986, a Hungarian film "Diary for My Children" won a Grand Prix at Cannes.

"The Notebook" released in  2013 was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Directed by Janos Szasz who has won awards on the international film circuit and shared in the writing.  Janos will be directing an English language, film, "Michigan" just in the planning stages right now.  I had not noticed that an American, Tom Abrams worked as a dramaturge.  Apparently that is transferring emotions to the screen including putting the emotions in context.  Undoubtedly there is more to it.  The story revolves around twin brothers caught up in World War II as Hungary, allied with Germany is losing.  The boys are shipped out to an estranged grandmother who is a tough character who resents the two boys.  They make a conscious effort to toughen themselves by such things as standing still while taking turns punching each other.  They do deliberately cold hearted things and are actually complicit in the deaths of their parents on separate occasions.  Ulrich Thomsen, a prominent Danish actor plays a German officer who befriend the boys.  An unusual role was played by Orsolya Toth who plays a harelip (none of the characters has a name) who at first steals from the boys and later befriends them. She has a bit part in "White God"--see below.  Was the official Hungarian submission for a foreign language Oscar.

"White God" released in 2014 was inspired by director Kornel Mundruczo who felt dogs were being given a bad deal and approached Viktoria Petrany to write something from the dog's point of view.  She was dismissive at first, but the two collaborated to produce a script.  In Hungary a law was passed discriminating against mixed breeds.  A young girl is forced to give up her dog and it ends up joining other rejected dogs.  The real key to this movie is the American dog trainer Teresa Ann Miller who explains in a special feature how they got the dogs to perform some apparently vicious and abusive scenes without actually hurting them.    The director explained they wanted no CGI and would used mostly street dogs.  A masterful told story.  This movie was also submitted for the best foreign film for an Oscar

After these two movies I decided to check out Hungarian movies but to be honest the library had very few and only two of the ones I had researched.

"Fateless "released in 2005 is a Holocaust story from a young man who survives    Director Lajos Kotai gained much experience with Giuseppe Tornatore as a cinematographer.  Surprised to learn music came from Ennio Morricone  and there was a cameo by Daniel Craig,  Marcell Nagy did an excellent job portraying a 14 year old enduring Buchenwald camp for a year.  There is hope in this movie with the mere survival under horrible circumstances.

"The Turin Horse" released in 2011"started where an incident that may or may not have happened about the famous philosopher, Fredrich Nietzshe.  According to legend  in 1889 he stopped a horse beating and shortly after suffered a mental illness that lasted until his death.  This is about the horse, but people are seen.  In one sense they are dependent on the aging horse who in the end starves himself to death.  A father and daughter live very bleak lives with a howling wind throughout the movie only relieved with a haunting musical score.  They boil and then eat potatoes every day and sleep.  Not too much else.  Reading the IMDB account there seem to be a number of complaints about how depressing the movie is with a few defenders.  I too, found it very depressing and boring, but found many of the comments helpful.  The director Bela Tarr who also helped write it has a long history of such movies and one of his traits is long takes with minimal dialogue.  This movie has only 30 takes spread over 146 minutes.  Bela's wife, Agnes Hranitsky is listed as a co-director and also as editor.  To get any value out of this movie you have to be patient, have a philosophical interest and some appreciation of cinematography.

All of these movies were bleak, in some cases extremely so.  When I review national films I try to find a variety including comic, but had to do with what I could find. Still one can appreciate that there are interesting stories to be told and excellent skills on display.

A little research into Hungary as a filming location.  There is a historical background, partly aluded to above.  Famous Hungarian actors in Hollywood included Bela Lugosi and Tony Curtis. the Gabor sisters.  George Cukor was an Oscar winning director.    The Hungarian government has offered generous rebates for filming costs in Hungary.  They also provide low cost expertise for such areas as cinematography, acting, set design and construction.  Their architecture is varied enough to double up for London, Berlin, Rome and even New York.  They also provide post production facilities and expertise.   Don't be surprised to learn about Hungarian connections to some of your favourite movies.

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