ⓘ Cinema of Hungary
Hungary has had a notable cinema industry since the beginning of the 20th century, including Hungarians who affected the world of motion picture both within and beyond the countrys borders. The former could be characterised by directors Istvan Szabo, Bela Tarr, or Miklos Jancso; the latter by William Fox and Adolph Zukor, the founders of Fox Studios and Paramount Pictures respectively, or Alexander Korda, who played a leading role in the early period of British cinema. Examples of successful Hungarian films include Merry-go-round, Mephisto, Werckmeister Harmonies and Kontroll.
1.1. The early decades 1896–1901
The story of the Hungarian Cinema begins in 1896, when the first screening of the films of the Lumiere brothers was held at 10 May in the cafe of the Royal Hotel of Budapest. In June of the same year, Arnold and Zsigmond Sziklai opened the first Hungarian movie theatre at the 41. Andrassy street, named the Okonograph, where they screened Lumiere films using French machinery. The inhabitants of the elite neighborhood despised this new form of entertainment, and the theatre soon closed. But film screenings in cafes, the centers of Budapests public life, were becoming more and more widespread, and by 1911, over 100 movie theater operated in the capital.
The first film shooting took place also in 1896, recording the festivities of the Millennium Celebration. Employees of the Lumieres recorded the march at the Buda Castle. The first Hungarian cameraman was Zsigmond Sziklai.
The first consciously made Hungarian film was A tanc The Dance directed by Bela Zsitkovszky, which came to life as an illustration to one of the shows of the Urania Scientific Theatre. Gyula Pekar asked for a moving picture from Bela Zsitovszky, the projectionist of the Urania. Zsitovszky, originally an optician, shot the picture on the roof terrace of the theatre with renowned actors and ballerinas of the Operahaz theatre. The 24 cinematographic short-films were premiered on 30 April 1901.
1.2. The early decades 1901–1920
The infrastructure of the Hungarian cinema scene was built up during the first decade of the 20th century. By 1910, 270 permanent theatres operated in the country, including large capacity film palaces like the Royal Apollo. Film distribution was organized by the end of the decade. The first company to lend film-shooting apparatus was the Projectograph, founded by Mor Ungerleider in 1908. The company also shot films, offering documentaries and newsreels, thereby making the first steps for the countrys film industry.
The literary and artistic scene enthusiastically supported the new form of expression. Writers of the Nyugat circle saw filmmaking as a sign of closing up to modern European Literature, and became avid movie theatre goers. Frigyes Karinthy even became a dramaturg to Alexander Korda, the first prominent director and movie critic.
As early critics found most of the films vulgar, boring and frivolous, film-makers stressed the informative, educational virtues of the technology, even while their first creations could not really reinforce these claims. The first company to have artistic goals was the Hunnia Studio, founded in 1911, formed as an offshoot of the Vigszinhaz theatre.
A characteristic style of early Hungarian cinema was the cinema sketch, a hybrid form of theatre and film. Each short projection was followed or interrupted by live stage actors, often acting their own characters from the screen. The genre inspired many prominent writers of the time, including Ferenc Molnar and Frigyes Karinthy. Comedians also used this form often to perform various jokes and scenes utilizing its hybrid nature, one well-known performer being Gyula Gozon.
Mor Undergleider also started a professional journal on the subject of cinema, called Mozgofenykep Hirado News of Moving Picture. The journal published articles of numerous renowned writers, theatrical directors, aestheticans and scientists about motion picture, including the pioneering film-theory articles of the 18-year-old Alexander Korda. However, the theoretical forebodings and possibilities outlined in Mozgofenykep Hirado were not realized later on by the countrys slowly unfolding film production.
During 1919 March–August, under the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Hungarian cinema industry was the first one to be nationalized fully. The journal Voros film Red film was started to popularize the shift. A number of filmmakers welcomed the change, as the government provided protection against competing foreign movies.
2.1. Interwar period 1920–1931
The aftermath of the First World War left the sprouting Hungarian movie industry in ruins. Native experts of the field, like directors Michael Curtiz or Alexander Korda left the country during or after the disarray, often making significant career abroad, like in Hollywood. During the twenties, foreign mostly American companies made use of the economical crisis by gaining hold of nearly all of the countrys theatres. French, American, and Italian movies that were banned during the war were all over Hungarian screens, leaving little ground for immature Hungarian productions. The few companies that operated at the time, like the Corvina Studio, drifted towards bankruptcy.
The downfall was avoided largely by government support, creating protective laws. The year 1925 saw the creation of the Hungarian Movie Industry Fund, and a new law forced distributors to finance a Hungarian movie after every 30 imported ones. Theatres were forced to air the newsreels created by the Office of Hungarian Film. In 1929 the government of Istvan Bethlen began to tax imported movies enriching the Industry Fund, but the fee was significantly lowered for companies that produced Hungarian movies even a short movie was awarded with 20 tax-free film imports.
The Movie Industry Fund bought the bankrupt Corvina Studio in 1927, founding the Hunnia Movie Company with the intention to produce full-length feature films. The studio became the cornerstone for professionals in the following years. Its mission became difficult with the economical crisis of 1929 and the spreading of costly sound film, needing further investments.
The movie-producing scene slowly emerged again, marked by the start of journal Filmkultura with editor Andor Lajtha in 1928. Newer technology from Vienna started appeared on the sets, also leaving room for innovation: with the Projektophone, Denes Mihaly became one of the many inventors of loud film, but he was unable to sell the patent. During the shooting of Csak egy kislany van a vilagon, crew members were able to borrow equipment from Fox Movietone News, whose employees worked in Budapest that day, recording a few musical and speaking scenes. While the movie was one of the last silent ones, ironically, it also became the first to use voice. The first voiced movie screening was held on 30 September 1929 in the Puskin theater presenting the American The Singing Fool. Voiced, speaking scenes were inserted in more and more films, like in Mihaly Kerteszs Noahs Ark, which featured a narrated introduction. The first full-length film with sound was Hunnia Film Studios 1931 movie Kek Balvany.
2.2. Interwar period 1931–1945
Because of its reputedly alien American storyline and setting, Kek Balvany, was only a mild success, unlike Hyppolit, a lakaj, which premiered only two months later, and became the first box office hit, as well as one of the most successful and well-known motion pictures of the country. Directed by Steve Sekely, who was called back from Berlin for the job, the movies comedic tone and bourgeois setting became a standard for native film production in the following ten years. Actors like Pal Javor and Gyula Kabos became sought-after performers, appearing in nearly every major production of the decade. As sound film enabled more natural performances, popular stage actors became more attracted to the big screen, however, many of them could not adapt to the different working conditions, or to the new phenomena of the filmstar, a life with pressure from the media and fans.
By 1932, over 500 theatres operated in the country, a quarter of them located in Budapest. Support for sound playback was spreading, with around half of the venues owning the needed devices. The maximum timeframe of the shooting was 12 days, after which the producing company fined the director for each additional day. After the problems of the 1920s, Hungarian film production boomed in the 1930s, rising from 6 films in 1932 to a peak of 36 in 1937.
From 1935 onwards, far-right-wing groups were formed throughout the country. They criticized the movie industry as being "infested with Jews" and its products "containg obscene, unmoral content". The number of protests were increasing, and premiers were disrupted, like in the case of Lovagias Ugy. As Horthys government formed increasingly closer ties with Nazi Germany, the press also started to put pressure on Jewish cast members. Article XV., the first "Jew law" introduced in 1938 maximalized the Jewish members in the Film Guild to 6%. Later anti-semitic laws restricted Jews from being directors, performers, screenwriters or managers of film studios, film distribution companies, and theatres over 6%. This made work nearly impossible for a large number of film-makers and actors, and many of them, like Gyula Kabos, fled the country. The Second World War slowly showed its signs in the country with an increasing number of air raids and bombings, making film production extremely difficult. In the final years of the war, only a handful of movies were made, most of them being slap-dash works. During the war, movie theatres did not play American and Soviet features, so industry professionals and selected audience could watch films like Gone with the Wind only at small, hidden, makeshift screenings for high prices.
2.3. Interwar period 1945–1947
The War had caused huge damage on industry property, but production work resumed relatively early, in 1945. Three movies were produced that year, the most prominent of this new ventures being Marton Keletis A Tanitono. They attempted to resurrect the production and story mechanisms of pre-war cinema, with private investments and old story schemes, but their failure seemed to prove that audience needs were changed and the small number of new cinemas will not provide enough revenue. The private sector slowly backed off from film production, resulting in no Hungarian films being made in 1946. Work resumed in 1947, with the government proposing a 200.000 Ft aid to film-producing companies the average budget of a movie being 500.000 Ft. Companies were started, but most of them were backed by political forces. Mezei profeta was financed by the Peasant Party, Konnyu muzsa by the Independent Smallholders Party, Valahol Europaban by the Communist Party, and Beszterce ostroma by the Social Democratic Party. Signaling the fierce situation, many of these movies were banned, causing moral and financial loss to targeted factions.
Most of the films from this transitional period continued the tradition of literary adaptations, but a number of them tried to introduce some sort of social criticism. Two outstanding pictures were Valahol Europaban by Geza Radvanyi, showing a realistic story of children in a post-war country and Enek a buzamezokrol by Istvan Szots, originally scripted in 1942 and focusing on peasant characters and the society that corrupts them. The latter movie had a smaller influence on the industry as it was banned in 1948 until the seventies.
21 March 1948 became a turning point for cinema production as the state began to nationalize certain parts of the industry, with several further steps in 1948–49 resulting in a total takeover.
3.1. Film in the socialist era 1948–1950
After the communist nationalization, the only company allowed to produce feature films was the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company, while newsreels and documentary production was managed by the News and Documentary Film Company, distribution was handled through MOKEP. Control over film production was centralized and overviewed by authorities to specify story themes and setting, the script was often rewritten multiple times to secure the transmission of ideological messages. The nationalization solved the long-running problem of funding, the governments resources allowed for technically more complex, big budget movies.
The first product of the nationalized industry was Frigyes Bans Talpalatnyi fold, continuing the tradition of films that showed a more realistic country life with the help of folk literature. However, this realism was distorted as a heavier presence of ideological content was appearing, a trend that would leave the mark on Hungarian films in the next decade. Films of 1948–49 – while varying in genre, a change that was welcomed after the mostly comedic approach of the thirties – aimed to show the sins of the past, and how they would change under the new socialist rule.
By 1950, the film industry was under total government control, plans for new movies were only issued by central command. Sabotage movies showed a reactionary figure from the "old regime", often an engineer or an intellectual, who works as an agent to sabotage production, sometimes collaborating with "western forces". While their first attempt is successful, investigation by wise party members uncovers the conspiracy. Both types utilized traditional tools of filmmaking, with either comedic or musical elements to show the joys of physical labor, or elements of detective stories to show the false deeds of sabotage. Historical films were also present, showing revolutionary ages that authorities felt to be parallel to contemporary events like Foltamadott a tenger – the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Rakoczi hadnagya – the peasant uprising led by Ferenc Rakoczi.
3.2. Film in the socialist era 1953–1956
From 1953, slight attempts of democratization are also showing signs in film production. The script loses importance over directorial work, also giving chance to young talents Karoly Makk, Janos Herko. Political messages were toned down, with manufacturing movies converting into real comedies with only marginal political elements Allami aruhaz, 2x2 neha ot, and sabotage movies turning into disaster films, showing more realistic threats to production natural disaster or human negligence that requires the collaboration of a community. Socially critical works began to appear, both in drama Keseru igazsag and comedic Ket emelet boldogsag form, to tell about the abnormal side of the communist rule.
Fuelled by proper funding and the easing political climate, 1954–56 were the beginning years for cinema as an art form in Hungary. The two most influential director of the era were Zoltan Fabri and Felix Mariassy. While Fabri operated with a dramatic-expressionist style that placed protagonists into extreme situations to face basic moral questions Korhinta, Hannibal tanar ur, Mariassy used a lyric, and strongly realistic tone, depicting events with high detail Budapesti tavasz, Egy pikolo vilagos. Another important director was Karoly Makk, whose films, ranging from satirical comedy Mese a 12 talalatrol to expressionistic social drama Haz a sziklak alatt represented the increasingly diversifying nature of the decades film production.
3.3. Film in the socialist era 1956–1960
The reprisal following the civil war of 1956 affected the movies world severely, several films were banned, while many industry experts and actors left the country. Decentralization of the countrys film production was halted, the planned reorganization became superficial, with the Hungarian National Filmmaking Company regaining its name of Hunnia Film Studio, and the News and Documentary Film Company was renamed to Budapest Film Studio. The latter also received permission to produce feature films, and while its budget and machinery was not ready for this task for a few following years, it provided breeding ground for a number of young talents, like Miklos Jancso. Political influences regained their place in production, so directors stayed away from contemporary or socially critical themes. Most of the films were set between the two World Wars, many of them being literary adaptations. Adopting novels from writers like Kalman Mikszath or Sandor Tatay, they showed the detailed lifestyle of peasants and common man in a moderately realistic fashion.
3.4. Film in the socialist era 1960–1970
The sixties were the years of rejuvenation for the Hungarian movie industry. After the harsher years following the events of 1956, the newly erected socialist government, headed by Janos Kadar wanted to appear more liberal, resulting in softening rules and regulations in every area. The two former film studios were split to four independent one, headed by film-makers. These artistic teams could approve or deny filming plans themselves, supervision was only present in the form of pre-screening of the finished movie. Instead of a multiple stages of control over scripts and plans, the censoring became a posterior process. Only a low number of films became censored, not only because the governments intention to maintain a more broad-minded image, but directors also tried to avoid more problematic themes. Socially critical films, often utilizing cross-talk and allegorical elements re-emerged, many of them were also being allowed to be screened at western film festivals.
As technology became cheap, large masses of people became introduced to this form of entertainment. In the countryside, clubs, community houses were converted to screening rooms, while in towns, and especially Budapest, hundreds of new movie theatres opened. Ticket price for premiere movies was 8 Ft, and 2 Ft for movies that played older films in worker districts all tickets costed 2 Ft – a cost that nearly every class could pay. With short animations and news reels playing before and after feature films, movie-going became a several-hour-long entertainment. Special theatres operated to only show children movies or news reels a ticket was valid for 30 minutes.
The founding of Balazs Bela Studio was another important step in the reshaping of the industry. While the studio had only a small budget, movies made here did not need to be pre-screened to external reviewers, only the ones intended for larger audiences. Young professionals finishing the university got a chance to quickly join live production. The studio became the main workshop for avant-garde and experimental filming, contributing greatly to the generational change of the sixties. Art groups with different characteristics were formed.
The eras filming was largely influenced by western modernism, but similarly to Czechoslovakian and Polish cinema, new elements and styles were rarely present in their pure form, but rather mixed with cultural, historical and political themes. For example, the rebellious, youth-centered French new wave served as an inspiration for Istvan Szabos early works, like Almodozasok kora or Szerelmesfilm, presented in non-linear narration, and experimental camera work. But in both cases, youth themes were combined with other basic questions like history, or the clash of generations.
Overstepping the trends of the fifties, the positive intellectual appears as a new type of character, full with optimism and ideas, battling not only with political barriers, but with bureaucracy, and the old generations rigid rules and positions. Intellectuals became personified, with such characters often reflecting to their own situation and possible ways to right decisions in long, moralizing dialogue scenes.
The demand for presenting rural life reappeared, but such films were produced with the world-view of the new generation. Protagonists looked at peasant life as a thing of the past, and while they respected old morals, and were nostalgic, they were critical about not only the social relations of past decades, but the general helplessness of their predecessors, dismaying their submission and lack of revolt. Reckoning with the past, breaking with the lifestyle of the father were the themes of numerous movies of the decade. Instead of the ballad-like, detailed rendering of country life, new directors used more stylized methods, signaling the standoff from the old ways. The theme of generational conflict appears in more light-hearted, entertaining forms in the second half of the decade, often in collaboration with popular pop-bands Ezek a fiatalok, Szerelmes biciklistak. Directors from the old generation also dealt with themes that looked at the past, and while omitting the element of conflicting generations, they too explored the question of individual destiny and history, historical determination, and moral decisions in such cases, often utilizing modernistic tools like paralleling viewpoints and interpretations.
The sixties was not only the decade of modernist film, but the starting era of distinctive directorial filmmaking. This can also be observed in Hungary. After his debut films, Igy jottem and Szegenylegenyek were the first movies where Miklos Jancsos trademark visual style – long, slow cuts and horizontal camera movement – appear. Istvan Szabo directs his most personal movies during this time, pairing subjectivity with first person narration. After 1956s Professor Hannibal, Zoltan Fabri further elaborates the theme of moral choice in historical times in many of his films from the 1960s, like Isten hozta, ornagy ur!, Ket felido a pokolban, Nappali sotetseg. After trying several genres, the cinema of Karoly Makk becomes more unified, creating the most political, dramatic films of his career during the era, with Megszallottak, Elveszett paradicsom, Az utolso elotti ember.
During this years art- and entertainment films became more separated, with the latter going through a similar renewal, seeking for new genres and actors. The most popular films were Zoltan Varkonyis adaptations of Mor Jokai novels and Marton Keletis comedies Butasagom tortenete, A tizedes meg a tobbiek. Disaster movies of the fifties were replaced by action films, detective stories A hamis Izabella, A gyilkos a hazban van and spy movies Foto Haber, Feny a redony mogott. Meant to carry on the tradition of cabaret/comedy films of the past, satirical comedy films appeared, often starring the popular Laszlo Kabos A vereb is madar.
The end of the decade saw another wave of censorial strictness, so film productions turned from political, revolting themes towards the private sphere, often utilizing stylized, lyrical motifs, producing so-called aestheticizing films.
3.5. Film in the socialist era 1970–1980
Both the objective and subjective form of the Hungarian film, developed in the sixties, goes through process of stylization in the seventies. Objective films try to compose a closer, sociological description of social processes marked by the trend of documentarism, the subjective, overstepping biographical elements, tries to stress the individual side of its form marked by the slightly pejorative term aestheticism. In both cases, the classical forms of narration fell into the background, and parallel to the loosening of the story, pictorial effects were strengthened, often using allegorization.
The two definitive trends of the seventies became the documentarism, meant to introduce a new aspect and change in form, and continuing from the sixties, the directorial films. Other contemporary genres and forms, like grotesque, satire, or the so-called state-of-the-generation films can all be connected to them.
The most influential trend of the decade was documentarism, creating the genre of fictional documentary or documentary feature films, a genre regarded as distinctively Hungarian Budapest school. Short and full-length documentaries created in the Balazs Bela Studio from the end of the sixties had a major influence in its creation. As film producers of the seventies were dissatisfied with illusion of realism of the previous years, they felt that conventional acting and dramatics no longer offered new possibilities. Many of the eras influential films include, or try to surpass documentarism, by distancing from realist depiction in building up unconventional scenes. In these films including Andras Jeless A kis Valentino, the sociologically accurate world becomes transparent, and by exposing documentarism, a peculiar cinematic language is revealed. By the end of the decade, documentarist stylization decoupled into a lyrical, or sometimes grotesque version utilized in feature films and an experimental line, marked by BB Studios Filmnyelvi Sorozat, and films of the K/3 Group, led by Gabor Body.
Most of the films made in the BB Studio and on the Academy used cinema direct as a method to reveal socially sensitive themes, but unlike the outer, intellectual standpoint of the sixties, they explored the inner conflicts of their subjects.
The eras mainstream was also created along the lines of the more artistic documentarist films, in the form of state-of-the-generation movies. While in part continuing the tradition of public life movies of the sixties, they incorporated the changed social attitudes of the seventies.
3.6. Film in the socialist era 1980–1989
Marta Meszaros Born 1931-09-19
Marta Meszaros best known for her film Diary for My Children 1984, which won the Grand-Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival and is the first film in a trilogy of autobiographical films that also includes Diary for My Lovers 1987, and Diary for My Mother and Father 1990.
4.1. Hungarian cinema today From 1990
List of movies:
- Satantango 1994
- Hungarian Requiem 1991
- Demimonde 2015
- On Body and Soul 2017
- Kincsem 2017
- The Maiden Danced to Death 2011
- Werckmeister Harmonies 2000
- Fateless 2005
- Delta 2008
- Rokonok 2006
- Son of Saul 2015
- The Gambler 1997
- Taxidermia 2006
- The District! 2004
- Hukkle 2002
- Pleasant Days 2002
- A Long Weekend in Pest And Buda 2003
- Kameleon 2008
- Children of Glory 2006
- Johanna 2006
- Kontroll 2003
- Just Sex and Nothing Else 2005
- I Love Budapest 2001
- Katalin Varga 2009
- Abandoned 2001
- The Man From London 2008
- The Turin Horse 2011
- Laszlo Nemes Jeles
- Marta Meszaros
- Antal Nimrod
- Can Togay
- Gyorgy Palfi
- Bela Tarr
- Lajos Koltai
- Istvan Szabo
- Ildiko Enyedi
- Endre Hules
- Karoly Makk
Academy Award nominees/winners since 1990:
Attila Szalay with two others technical AA-award for SpaceCam 1996?
Lajos Koltai AA-nomination for Best Cinematography 2000 for "Malena"
Geza M.Toth AA-nomination 2007 for Best Short Film, animation: "Maestro"2005
Mark Jaszberenyi, Tamas Perlaki and Gyula Priskin: Scientific Academy Award 2010 for development of software "Lustre", color correcting system that enables real-time manipulation during digital intermediate process. Scientific Academy Award 2014 was given for Mud box shared by five persons of whom three were Hungarians: Tibor Madjar for the concept and Csaba Kohegyi and Imre Major for the design.
Laszlo Nemes Jeles winning award for best foreign language film 2016 with Son of Saul.