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Attivo fin dai tempi del liceo, Istvan Szabo esordisce nel lungometraggio con opere liriche
caustiche [Almodozdsok Kora/ Age of Daydreaming (1964) primo film d'autore: i sogni e gli entusiasmi di un gruppo di
ragazzi si schiantano contro una realtà meschina], soprattutto il secondo, Apa/ Father (1966),
parabola del culto della personalità: un ragazzo, che ha sempre conservato un ricordo eroico del
padre, eletto a protagonista della lotta contro il nazismo, scopre che anch'egli non fu altro che un povero
diavolo. Il film è un incrocio fra la rievocazione lirica alla Resnais e la critica allegorica dello
Szerelmesfilm/ Love Film (1970), his first color film, revisits both the
historical Hungarian past and the private individual past, pointing at both
sociology of a nation and psychoanalysis of childhood myths as complementary
tools to reach the truth.
The first half jumps back and forth in time, mostly a stream of memories a` la
Alain Resnais, and is more evocative than narrative.
The second half is more linear, almost entirely played in France in the
present (and a lot less interesting than the first half).
Jansci talks to the camera, explaining that he is on his way to meet a girl
he hasn't seen in ten years.
Jansci and Kata grew up together during the war.
Actually, this Kata was a really annoying little girl, who one day
told him that his father had died and then kept making fun of him, to the
point that he has recurring dreams of her on a swing chanting that his
father has died.
He left his girlfriend, who came to the train station to wish him a good trip
and ran along the railway waving goodbye.
On the train memories come flowing back.
When his father was arrested as a deserter, Kata's family took him in,
but the little girl threatened to tell everybody about Jansci's father
if Jansci didn't give her his knapsack.
He remembers the carefree happiness their childhood while the fascists
were spreading terror in the streets and the planes were dropping bombs on
Now he is sitting in a comfortable train, showing his documents to polite
conductors and immigration officers.
He remembers when Kata, now a young woman living under communist rule,
phoned him to tell him that she was going to flee Hungary and that she
regretted that he had decided to stay.
He remembers that during the war, as children, they had attempted to
dig a tunnel all the way to America after learning at school that the
Earth is round.
The classes were taught in somebody's living room because the school had
He remembers the street car that they took every day as children, and where,
as young adults, they kissed while it was snowing outside.
He remembers that, as teenagers, already under communism, they were
judged by a commission of the other teenagers emulating adult communists
and convicted because they had been seen holding hands and she steadfastedly
admitted that she loved Jansci more than anybody else.
He remembers when they caused the entire neighborhood to lose power while
trying to electrocute a fish before dissecting it at a time when their dream
was to become doctors.
They played in the snow both as children and then as young lovers.
They were briefly separated by communism. When they met again,
their hands searched each other while they were walking, trying to
return to the spontaneity of when they were children and always holding hands,
but she, still a virgin, got scared when he tried to kiss her.
Finally they became lovers but just then the Soviet Union invaded Hungary
to abort the 1956 revolution.
We see again a scene in which he is stopped a patrol while riding his bike,
and this time we see the scene continue until he meets with Kata.
She still doesn't want to have sex.
There is shooting in the street.
Back then they remembered the woman who had been taken away and shot by the
Germans, Bozsi, a vivid memory for both of them.
We see again Kata phoning Jansci that she is leaving the country.
On the train he imagines how it will be when he meets her in France.
Her letters started coming soon afterwards. She studied fashion design,
she found a job. The letters got shorter and shorter.
He had another girlfriend.
Jansci realizes that the train has reached the station and gets off. Kata
is not there: she had a meeting and sent a friend to pick him up.
Finally she shows up at her apartment and they make love.
She has the same memory that he has of them in wintertime.
They go over some of the memories that we've already seen but they argue
because they remember different details.
They meet with other Hungarian exiles.
One woman survived the mass shooting carried out by Germans in which
Bozsi was also killed, but her recollection differ from theirs. She tells
them of how she saved herself by swimming down the river and then walking
to the border.
Kata doesn't want Jansci to leave. He proposes to her. She accepts.
But then they realize that they both have a past:
she had two lovers, and one was her friend's husband.
They take a beach vacation.
She curses her childhood that made her fall in love so much with him that
she can't love anyone else.
One of their best childhood friends come to visit them. He is now a US soldier
stationed in Germany, and they look down on him for living in the country
that oppressed and massacred their people.
Jansci asks Kata to go back to Hungary with him.
She guesses that he has a girl in Hungary.
In any case she has her job and is not willing to sacrifice it for him.
Jansci even realizes that the kiss in the streetcar in the snow (one of his
dearest memories) was just a dream.
He decides to go back home.
All he sees of Paris (they kept talking about spending a romantic weekend there)
are a few minutes while waiting for the train to depart.
Later Jansci married his girlfriend Jutka, and Kata
married an Englishman.
In a post office people of all ages and sexes are writing letters to their
friends and relatives who left the country;
their voices become a cacophony; and Jansci's is only one of them.
Kata and her husband visit Jansci and his wife.
Tuzolto Utca 25/ 25 Firemen St (1973) disposed with the temporal order
and created a blend of voices in a plethora of formats (stream of
consciousness, autobiography, dialogues, etc).
A hot night keeps the neighbors of an old building awake and they start
remembering and meditating.
The wildly surreal film, one of the most intricate flashbacks in the history of cinema, photographed by cinematographer Sandor Sara, is one long delirious collective stream of consciousness that takes place on a hot summer night, introduced by the explosion to demolish a residential building. The film is the story of the families that lived in that building, told by the survivors in random order. There is additional time distortion as scenes and dialogues mix past, present and future (the characters tell us what will happen to other characters).
There's a middle-aged woman having sex with a boy, a
girl who swims in her living room while asleep,
a young woman who loves a young man who doesn't talk to her and watches as a gorgeous woman sleeps naked,
and especially Maria, a middle-aged woman who can't fall asleep even
if she's so tired.
Maria remembers the two men of her life, first viewed as two faces in one.
French soldierslooking for "reds"
A Mitteleuropean intermezzo replete with neoclassical ballet and rococo decor
shows the young Maria and her suitors: a Russian anarchist and a nice doctor.
She can read their tragic future.
After the cryptic scene of an old man taking care of
lots of children in a cramped room, we shift to winter, with a
carpenter working in the street.
And then back to Maria's wedding banquet, while a
man in the streets sells gas masks and
soldiers parading comically in the streets.
Every now and then someone leaves for Australia or Canada.
A granma dies and her body is taken away by a queen's carriage.
Everybody packs their belongings in suitcases and assembles in the street, but
a girl commits suicide by jumping from the balcony. The persecution of the Jews
by the fascist regime has begun:
Maria's family is given just a few hours to pack and join the other Jewish
families. The Jews are stripped naked, disinfected and imprisoned.
A woman, the owner of a bakery, risks her life to shelter deserters (and after
the war her beneficiaries will testify to it), surviving several police raids.
The Russians are approaching. Partisans and fascists fight.
Maria's first husband dies of heart failure surrounded by nuns.
An old man with two girls repairs clocks.
The war is finally over.
Now everyody is trying to prove that they were antifascists and asks
the woman who sheltered escapees to testify for them.
The Jewish family returns.
The cmmunist nationalize the bakery of woman who sheltered antifascists
during the war, but then the very
communist woman who nationalized her bakery comes asking her to hide in the
attic, evidently persecuted by the communists herself.
Now it's the nobility and the higher middle-class that has to fear the new
regime. There's Maria's second wedding banquet.
Another cryptic scene with objects in free fall on a courtyard.
There is poverty againa: rich families have to sell what they have to ragmen.
The old clock-repair man is starving and even eats plastic.
All the characters line up outside and watch their building (like the actors
at the end of a theatrical play).
Budapest Mesek/ Budapest Tales (1976) is an allegorical story set in
a dilapidated tram full of refugees that slowly advances.
Bizalom/ Confidence (1979) is an psychological drama set in
a surreal landscape in which the other people in the streets don't speak: they
either stand in endless lines (waiting to get some food) or walk briskly away.
The film attains a marriage of Bergman and Kafka: a Bergman-style domestic drama set in a Kafka-style human landscape.
The apparent slim plot is wrapped in a tangle of loneliness and fear.
The woman falls in love with two men and at the end she herself is not sure
whom she truly loves.
A woman is watching newsreels in a movie theater during the war and the German
When she walks outside in a deserted street, a man approaches her and tells
her that she cannot go home. He tells her that he belongs to the "movement" like
her husband, and that her husband is in trouble. She follows the stranger to
a hospital where she is given a new identity. She has to memorize her new name
Katalin, and her daughter's name. Then she is delivered to her new husband,
who is also a member of the resistance in hiding. They pretend to be husband
and wife in front of the old lady who takes them him as refugees, and they
pretend that their child is at the hospital. Katalin almost goes crazy with
the terror of what may have happened to her real husband and her real child.
Janos makes things worse by not trusting her: he subjects her to
cruel psychological tests to make sure that she will not betray him. If she
makes a mistake, he is dead too. She keeps begging for news about her husband
and finally one day Janos delivers to her a note handwritten by
her husband that says he is ok and he misses her too.
One day as she is sitting alone in a upper-scale care, Katalin is approached
by a blonde who claims to know her well and calls her a coward for not
being willing to hide her. But Katalin truly doesn't remember her and cannot
trust her. Janos begins to feel sorry for her situation, a woman
who has been separated from her family and is surrounded by suspicion and
fear. And one night, out of the blue, she offers herself to him, and he
takes her passionately.
The following day she seems amused that she now has a lover.
They can only see one person, their contact with the resistance:
a lieutenant named Pali, an old acquaintance of his who tells her that
Janos used to be a womanizer.
Every step they take outside the house they have to be paranoid because
anybody could be a spy.
A German soldier stops Janos: they used to know each other.
The German soldier is eager to chat with somebody. He seems to be honestly
lonely and unhappy.
Back home she find the landlady in her room and the landlady tells her
that a young man looked for her.
Janos explains why he is afraid of everybody: he had a girlfriend
in Germany who seems to love him a lot and she betrayed him with the police.
Now Katalin seems to have a new mission: to restore his trust in humanity.
She is the one who wants to have sex with him. She admits to him that she is in love.
They start dreaming of a future together.
Unseen by her, he reads a letter from his wife Judit, in which his wife sends him
her tender love and tells him of how much she misses him. He walks outside and
calls his real wife: he quickly tells her that he misses her too.
Pali brings a gramophone while Janos is away, and dances with Katalin. When Janos arrives, Pali tells him that Katalin has been called to a secret appointment and that the situation is tense because the resistance
staged a new sabotage attack.
Katalin walks through deserted streets to a building that looks empty,
knocks at a door and... her real husband Tamas opens. It is only a temporary
apartment. She complains that he never told her anything about his revolutionary
activities, treated her like a child.
They make love. Then she has to return to her fake husband.
When he disappears for one night, she gets angry and makes a furious scene.
They make love. She tells him that she wants a child from him.
Suddenly, the bombing begins. Pali comes to report that
anarchy is spredaing in the streets, with widespread looting and killing.
Instead of giving them hope, the events create tension.
One day he simply tells her that he has to leave.
The war ends with the victory of the revolutionaries, but Janos has disappeared
and her identification papers are gone.
At the government office they interrogate her about the mysterious Janos who
was supposed to be a revolutionary but is unknown to them (Janos was not his
She returns home to find her real husband Tamas and hugs him crying.
Unbeknownst to her, Janos is looking for her outside the government office
that she has just left: he must have been told of a woman looking for a
revolutionary named Janos.
Mephisto (1981) stages the relationship between art and power.
In the 1930s
Dora is the star of an opera. She gets a standing ovation. In a room backstage
Hendrik (Klaus-Maria Brandauer)
is devoured by jealousy. He is only a provincial actor. His black dance
teacher, Juliette, is also his lover: they make love like children who fight
for play. Juliette is the only one who knows his real name, Heinz.
Hendrik's partner in the play that he is performing is Nicoletta. Hendrik falls
in love with her best friend, Barbara, who comes from a wealthy aristocratic
family. Hendrik steers his company towards Marxist theater. He provokes Miklas,
a minor actor who is a nazi, and then tries to have him fired.
His career takes off when Dora introduces him to a famous producer. He becomes
famous for his communist ideals as well as for his acting, dancing and singing
skills. At the peak of his career he plays Mephisto, the devil who offers Dr
Faust a pact. That night Dora announces that she is leaving for the USA, before
it is too late. Hendrik, whose career is soaring, lives in denial of what is
happening (Hitler's rise to power). His wife Barbara decides to leave too and
settles in Paris. Hendrik goes to Hungary to make a film. He has the chance to
go in exile, but he knows that his career would never be the same abrod.
So he goes back to Germany. Lotte, an actress who is the lover of a powerful
nazist, restores his reputation. He has a chance to play Mephisto again.
He has to work with Miklas, his old nemesis. He has to pay homage to Lotte's
lover, the prime minister, who becomes an admirer of his. He even poses as a model for a female
sculptor who is imbued with nazist fervor. Juliette is again his lover, but
Juliette, unlike him, cannot change her situation: she is a black living in
a racist society. Hendrik becomes a celebrity, Germany's most respected actor.
When Miklas (the original nazist) leads a protest, Hendrik (the original
proletariat) is the one who doesn't want to hear about it. Hendrik has sold
his soul to the devil (nazism) in return for fame and glory. Miklas is
summarily executed. Hendrik's staunch loyalty to the nazists gains him
a promotion to director of the opera theater. However, the nazists have found
out about his relationship with a black woman. Hendrik begs that they let her
leave the country unharmed. As the director of the theater, Hendrik has to
accept further compromises, such as firing old friends and Jewish workers.
He visits Juliette in Vienna, the only woman to whom he confesses, and then
Barbara in Paris, to whom she says he's married to the theater. As he walks
around Paris, he meditates what job he could have in such a country (certainly
not director of the national theater).
Back in Germany, Hendrik divorces and marries Barbara's best friend Nicoletta,
an actress who, like him, has remained in Germany. When his old friend Otto
disappears, he begs the prime minister, but he is treated like a slave. Lotte
later tells him that Otto "committed suicide". Hendrik goes on to stage Hamlet,
another wild success. The prime minister congratulates him and invites him to
see his brand new stadium, and asks him to run to the middle. Hendrik is
blinded by the lights and wonders what else they want from an actor.
Redi Ezredes/ Colonel Redl (1984) is a period drama set in the 18th
century's "Mitteleuropa" about the rise and fall of
a sneaky and ambitious officer all the way to his suicide.
Hanussen (1988) is another historical drama set in World War II.
Edes Emma Draga Bobe - Vazlatok Aktok/ Sweet Emma Dear Bobe - Sketches Nudes (1992) is a powerful drama of an innocent who, surrounded by corruption,
is losing faith in her own values.
The pro-Russian communist regime has collapsed and life is rapidly being
westernized in Hungary.
Emma has a nightmare of rolling down a ravine. She wakes up. There is noise
of a tram and of an airplane. She shares a room in a hostel with another girl, Bobe.
Both are teachers at a nearby high school. That day Emma witnesses
the children burning the books in the Russian language, that are no longer
required learning. She is distracted by the headmaster,
a middle-aged man with whom she is having a relationship. He treats her coldly
in public but she loves him madly. That night she goes to bed alone dreaming
of walking in the woods with the man. Instead she hears her housemate making
love with a man.
The Russian teachers Emma and Bobe are no longer needed and they are sent to
study English in the evening.
She brings a birthday present to the headmaster, who invites her to spend the
weekend with him in the countryside, but at the same time is concerned about
On the tram the teachers have to listen to the rough vulgar language of a group
of punks, while the older generation sits silent, well-dressed and polite.
On the way home she is attacked by a pervert who holds a knife at her but
she manages to run away. At the police station she is interrogated and
humiliated by a young cop who obviously had no interest in prosecuting the
Emma, being a teacher of the Russian language, is humiliated by the other
teachers. She is now teaching English to her class.
The headmaster cancels their date because he has important meetings but hands
her the keys to spend the weekend at the dacha with her housemate.
In the wonderful cottage they see traces of the man's married life.
They play like children inside and outside.
A small airplane flies over them.
At night, however, her friend tells her that she knows. She knows because
the headmaster hit on her too, and told her about Emma wanting him. Her friend
scolds Emma for being so gullible and romantic. Bobe is, instead, a cynical
girl but they both have the same problem: try are desperate to find the
right man. At first Emma yells at Bobe that she's a whore, but then they
make peace and smile again.
When the two girls are appraoched at a cafe by two German tourists, Bobe is
ready to do anything with them but Emma runs away.
She keeps having the nightmare of rolling down a ravine.
Bobe reads an ad in the newspaper: a filmmaker is looking for extras.
They have to undress for a bathing scene and dance.
Bobe, Emma and some other friends decide to go. Emma is the only one who
refuses to undress. The others want the money.
She finally confronts the headmaster. He tells her that he can lose his job
any time because he belongs to the old regime and the last thing he needs is
a sex scandal. Rejected, she walks away but first leaves a flower on his
car's windshield. He can't resist and lets her in.
Emma cleans his parents' home and then visits her granma at the hospital.
The old woman asks Emma to go and pray for her at the church.
Emma walks to the church but, instead, prays for herself and her impossible
Looking for Bobe around the hostel, Emma ends up in a party and meets a young male teacher,
They dance and hug tenderly. He takes her to his room. They have sex silently
while his housemate wait outside till midnight.
Returning to her room, Emma finds the police.
They have arrested Bobe, her roommate for seven years,
for prostitution and drugs. She is shocked to find out what,
unconsciously, she has always suspected.
The captain who interrogates her sounds more like a
psychiatrist and a philosopher, intruding in her private life and private
When she returns to school, the headmaster asks her if she's a whore too,
and she leaves crying. Then in class she loses her temper when the children
make a dirty joke and physically assaults one.
Two months later Bobe returns. Emma has been assigned a new housemate.
Bobe picks up her stuff, takes a shower without taking off her dress and
then kills herself jumping from the window.
An airplane takes off just like in the first scene.
Emma runs downstairs and hugs the dying friend.
Emma ends up selling newspapers in the underground.
Sunshine (1999) is a period drama that follows three generations of a Jewish family,
a historical epic a` la Bertolucci's "1900" divided in three acts corresponding to the three protagonists played by Ralph Fiennes (grandfather, father and son).
The film is haunted by an incestuous theme that seems to mirror the political
destiny of Hungary, first part of the Austrian empire, then de-facto part of the Soviet empire.
The first act is rather tedious and superficial. The events of half a century are briefly narrated and visualized without much psychological analysis.
It's like flipping to someone's old diary and reading only one or two
sentences per page.
The first act is narrated more verbally than visually.
The British accent and general British attitude of the actors do not help.
The film feels like a BBC drama, but a boring one.
The narrator starts with his grandfather Emmanuel, who left the village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire after an explosion killed his parents
Aaron and Josefa while distilling their herbal potion.
Moving to the Hungarian capital Budapest, Emmanuel finds a wife, Rose, and money, thanks to the elixir (named "Sunshine") that becomes the brew into a successful business. They have two children, Ignatz and Gustave, and adopt an orphaned niece. Over time Ignatz falls in love with his cousin Valerie, despite the
opposition of his parents and the jealousy of his brother.
His father convinces him to move to Vienna and focus on his study. For a while
he refused to reply to his cousin's letters, but she comes to visit him and
a passionate love affair ensues in earnest.
Ignatz graduates and becomes a judge.
To advance his career, he has to change his Jewish name.
So do his brother Gustave and his cousin and lover Valerie.
Valerie gets pregnant and they decide to marry against the will of the parents.
Ignatz accepts to cover up a political case in order to protect the reputation
of the emperor. His brother Gustave instead advocates a socialist revolution.
Valerie is more interested in
Hungary's fate than in the bombastic and anachronistic Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Valerie is still pregnant at the end of 1899 when the family celebrates the new century.
Two children are born out of their marriage: Istvan and Adam
(played again by the same actor who played Ignatz).
Ignatz learns that his brother Gustave is involved in a conspiracy to
overthrow the monarchy. They have a heated argument in which Ignatz defends
the monarchy and Gustave accuses it of oppressing the people.
Gustave then falls gravely ill but recovers quickly.
Both brothers enlist in the Austro-Hungarian army as officers during World War I.
Ignatz does not see his wife nor his children for four years.
He is still away when his father dies. He is sad that the empire loses the
war and gets dismantled.
His wife Valerie feels frustrated and decides to leave him.
In 1919 the communists seize power.
Ignatz loses his job while Gustave becomes a powerful official.
Valerie returns when she hears of Ignatz's disgrace.
Arguments flare up between Valerie and Ignatz's mother, who has never
Ignatz dies and his mother dies. Valerie raises the children,
Istvan and Adam (played by the same actor who played Ignatz).
They both join a fencing club. Adam, in particular, becomes a national champion,
while Valerie becomes a famous photographer.
An Italian general invites him to join the officer's club but the condition is
that he must convert to Catholicism. Valerie, who is more loyal to Hungary than
to Judaism, encourages him to convert. At the conversion ritual
Adam meets Hannah, who is engaged to a Catholic.
Adam invites her to dinner and tells her that he loves her.
Adam is trained to win and is determined to win her over.
He succeeds, she dumps her fiance, and they get married and
have one son, Ivan.
Adam wins twice the national fencing championship and leads the national team to the Olympic games in Nazi Germany.
Istvan's wife Greta seduces him with an animal determination.
He tries to resist her, feeling remorse towards his brother, but eventually they become lovers.
The country enacts anti-Semitic laws, but Adam is spared because he is a
However, the fencing club excludes him. Greta wants him to flee the country,
but Adam reacts dumping her.
Greta, terrified by the anti-Semitic mood, invokes the entire family, including Valerie, to apply for the visa to emigrate.
Adam, on the other hand, is convinced that things will improve.
When the family finally listens to her, it is too late and they can't get
Germany occupies Hungary, Valerie and Hannah are locked into the Ghetto,
Valerie escapes, Adam and his son Ivan are deported to a concentration camp.
Adam is stripped naked and tortured to death (in front of his son Ivan) for refusing to humiliate himself. He keeps repeating that he is a Hungarian officer
until the last moment.
Gustave is safe because he is in exile in France.
Istvan, Greta and their son are summarily executed by the Nazis and their
bodies are dumped in the river. Hannah too dies in a concentration camp.
When the Soviet Union liberates Hungary, the only survivor of the two families
is Ivan (played again by the same actor who played Istvan),
who is the narrator of the film.
Valerie and Gustave welcome him back, but Gustave accuses him: his father
Adam was killed by three Nazi guards in front of two thousand Jews.
Gustave makes Adam feel guilty because he didn't do anything to save his father.
Adam, determined to take his revenge against the fascists, enlists into the
secret police of the new communist regime and persecutes the people who
collaborated with the Nazis.
Ivan is placed in charge of persecuting Jews suspected of plotting against
the communist regime, including his own boss and friend.
When Ivan refuses to find him guilty, the party assigns someone else to
extort a confession from the poor victim.
Luckily his own uncle Gustave dies before Ivan gets to investigate him.
Meanwhile, he has an affair with Carole, the wife of a party boss.
Stalin dies, Ivan realizes the brutality of the communist regime after
burying his former boss and friend who has been tortured to death, leaves
the secret police, and becomes a leader of the failed anti-communist revolution of 1956, for which he spends a few years in prison.
Released (but without the watch that belonged to his great-grandfather),
Ivan returns to live with his grandmother Valerie.
He helps her search for the legendary recipe of great-grandfather's elixir.
She has a heart attack and dies before they can find it, repeating the
family's original Jewish name.
While throwing away the old furniture, Ivan finds an old letter written by
Emmanuel to his son, Ivan's grandfather.
Ivan changes his name back to the family's original Jewish name.
His narration ends with the fall of the Soviet Union.
Szembesites/ Taking Sides (2001) is based on the controversial life of
Berlin's classical music conductor
Being Julia (2004) is an adaptation of Somerset Maugham's 1937 novel "Theater".
Relatives (2006) is another allegorical political drama.
Az Ajto/ The Door (2012) is an adaptation of Magda Szabo's novel "Az Ajto/ The Door" (1987).
The fundamental theme of his films remained memory, but at the individual level
and at the collective level.
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