Merry Go Round and the delights of Hungarian Cinema

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Merry Go Round and the delights of Hungarian Cinema

Postby kenji » Sat Apr 11, 2009 3:15 am

Hungarian films don’t get much attention, and this needs rectifying with a whip and assorted medieval contraptions of compulsion forthwith.

Today i saw the 1955 classic by Zoltan Fabri, Merry Go Round (Korhinta). And a very fine thing it was too. A young woman is enjoying the exhilarating freedom of flying through the air on rides at the fair with her impish jolly friends and a young man she’s taken a liking to. But her stern father does not approve of such cavortings at all. His mind is set on financial betterment, and her engagement to a more appropriate business-minded fellow; “land marries land”. Never mind that the not so likeable fiancé has already tried it on with our heroine, taking physical rights for granted and been rebuffed. So the course of true love is far from smooth, things are looking bleak indeed, the heroine is sliding into the slough of despond, but her true sweetheart is made of stern stuff. He knows what he wants, and he will not be put off by social conventions and some oppressive patriarch….He will make his own destiny, and there’s a slight physical resemblance to Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia, even his eyebrows are tough and dynamic as he stands before us in close-up. There’s some social comment over the preferability of collectives to greedy individualism but this is a film that doesn’t bog down in politics. It swirls joyfully, it can be intense and grim, and it has its quiet lyrical patches too; a ladybird flies into the air and the heroine has her dreams.

And so onto the joys of Bela Tarr, Jancso, Szabo, Karoly Makk, Marta Meszaros… i’ll say more, but over to you..!
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Re: Merry Go Round and the delights of Hungarian Cinema

Postby zivojin panahi » Sat Apr 11, 2009 8:42 am

Here's one directed by Karoly Makk. I wrote this in a blog a long time ago, when I was a better writer. :D


CAT'S PLAY (Karoly Makk, 1972)

Sibling love and companionship are the all-encompassing themes in Karoly Makk's Cat's Play, a movie that captures felicitously and bittersweetly a nostalgia for more carefree and youthful times -- for a world that can no longer be recovered. Two sisters -- through the rapidly-outmoded medium of handwritten letters -- conduct a faithful and conscientious correspondence that belies the great distance that separates them. But it's not all a portrait of intimate sisterhood that we witness in Karoly Makk's universe; other dimensions of feeling, other aspects of relationships -- in particular, their seemingly contrasting if not clashing personalities -- find expression in this finely crafted film founded on what might be called sisterly billets-doux.

Cat's Play is centered -- sometimes confusingly until the story hits its stride in midstream -- on the voice-over readings of letters between Erzsi and Giza, two sisters who seem destined to live apart and for the most part, alone. Their intimate letters almost always hark back to an innocent and idyllic place in their childhood: a virtual time capsule for us as Makk intersperses soft-focus images and vignettes -- compositions that are redolent of old photographs -- of younger lives and innocence. In their letters, the sisters broach photographs and mementos, how they can no longer be found, or otherwise frayed by time and remembrance.

It is not all nostalgia, however, as we hear the consequences of sharpened familiarity and candidness. Erzsi is a music teacher in Budapest who seems fiercely protective of her independence, relishing her city life even as her one romantic flame Viktor has been less than faithful. She has a younger helper at home, Mousey, whose very nickname suggests a note of condescension from the house's mistress. An amusing aspect of their relationship is how they communicate endearingly by making cat's miaows, but their intimacy remains limited.

Giza lives in a distant but undisclosed place, bedridden and paralyzed by an accident. Her letters to Erzsi often assume the tone of an older sister, at times repelling the younger and stubborn sibling. Giza does not make a mystery of her desire for Erzsi to reunite with her no matter how many times she has been rebuffed.

Makk charts with realism the emotional ebb and flow between the two sisters through their letters, their mutual love for one another contrasting with their strong personalities. Makk's thematic obsession has been to depict the whole spectrum of female relationships, loves of different kinds: lesbian love in Another Way and that of a daughter- and mother-in-law in Szerelem. In Cat's Play, Makk portrays a love that reflects the brutal pace of modern times, a love that refuses to transport itself to the pragmatics of the present.
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Re: Merry Go Round and the delights of Hungarian Cinema

Postby kenji » Sun Apr 12, 2009 5:12 am

Thanks a lot for that- Cats Play is not one i'd heard much about. Makk’s Love is a beautifully made film, picked by the excellent British critic Derek Malcolm in his book of 100 favourites. Another Way was fine. I also thought My Way Home and The Red and the White by Jancso were excellent, the sense of space, the landscapes and smooth roving camera; the latter captures the swaying fortunes of battle, a sense of individuals caught up in larger events not always in their control. I’d still like to see Red Psalm. Szabo’s Mephisto (1981), a German co-production won the Foreign Film Oscar; about an actor (Brandauer) who sells his soul to the Nazis and then comes repayment time.

I’ve heard very good things of Witness (Bacso) and its apparently Svejk-like character appeals- parts of the Good Soldier Svejk (Czech) book were hysterical.

From this decade Mundruczo’s Johanna was interesting, a sort of operatic Joan of Arc in a hospital- she’s an angel for the patients, who are understandably happy that she’ll sleep with them to assist their cures. I'd like to see his film Delta which the International Critics' prize at Cannes i think

Tavaszi Zapor/Spring Showers by Fejos is an early classic from 1932 i fancy seeing; it was picked in the BFI’s 360 classics. Hollering’s Hortobagy is a notbale mix of documentary/fiction mix from 1936, about the way of life, animals and music, especially the horsemen and their noble steeds, of the countryside at the time.

Ok, i’ll say a bit on some shorts on youtube- Hadarics Gabor’s “Connections”, one of several shorts from Gyor, may appeal to lovers of the US avant-garde and home-made amateurish vids, but it’s distinctive and strange, reminded a bit of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (mainly the music). Then there’s the 1980 Oscar-winning short animation by Rofusz, The Fly- well worth catching (or is that swatting?), as is Ivanyi's 1996 Cannes -winning Wind (Szel)
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Re: Merry Go Round and the delights of Hungarian Cinema

Postby zivojin panahi » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:18 am

kenji wrote:Thanks a lot for that- Cats Play is not one i'd heard much about. Makk’s Love is a beautifully made film, picked by the excellent British critic Derek Malcolm in his book of 100 favourites. Another Way was fine. I also thought My Way Home and The Red and the White by Jancso were excellent, the sense of space, the landscapes and smooth roving camera; the latter captures the swaying fortunes of battle, a sense of individuals caught up in larger events not always in their control. I’d still like to see Red Psalm. Szabo’s Mephisto (1981), a German co-production won the Foreign Film Oscar; about an actor (Brandauer) who sells his soul to the Nazis and then comes repayment time.

I’ve heard very good things of Witness (Bacso) and its apparently Svejk-like character appeals- parts of the Good Soldier Svejk (Czech) book were hysterical.

From this decade Mundruczo’s Johanna was interesting, a sort of operatic Joan of Arc in a hospital- she’s an angel for the patients, who are understandably happy that she’ll sleep with them to assist their cures. I'd like to see his film Delta which the International Critics' prize at Cannes i think

Tavaszi Zapor/Spring Showers by Fejos is an early classic from 1932 i fancy seeing; it was picked in the BFI’s 360 classics. Hollering’s Hortobagy is a notbale mix of documentary/fiction mix from 1936, about the way of life, animals and music, especially the horsemen and their noble steeds, of the countryside at the time.

Ok, i’ll say a bit on some shorts on youtube- Hadarics Gabor’s “Connections”, one of several shorts from Gyor, may appeal to lovers of the US avant-garde and home-made amateurish vids, but it’s distinctive and strange, reminded a bit of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (mainly the music). Then there’s the 1980 Oscar-winning short animation by Rofusz, The Fly- well worth catching (or is that swatting?), as is Ivanyi's 1996 Cannes -winning Wind (Szel)


Thanks for the quick survey of Hungarian cinema. I'm taking down notes. I'm discovering and hearing about films I should watch out for. It's really disconcerting to hear and see how this part of the world, and Eastern Europe in general, has been kept in the margins of filmdom (a situation that is not about to change), when it has produced some of the finest films and directors in the history of world cinema.

Jancso is a favorite of mine too. My Way Home is also probably my number one film by him. It's a poignant film towards the end, but the rest of the film is also his most emotionally rewarding, and dare I say most enjoyable, a quality that he reins in in his subsequent films. This film also inaugurates his trademark style -- the highly mobile and highly choreographed cinematography, the thematics of war, the overall mise en scene -- that became more and more pronounced in films like The Red and The White, The Round-Up, and The Silence and The Cry. (Red Psalm approaches utmost stylization, plus the fact that this is, if I'm not mistaken, Jancso's first attempt at color. He doesn't disappoint.)

I've also treasured the two Marta Meszaros films I've seen, namely, Adoption and Diary for My Children. In my to-watch-pile, I have The Unburied Man.

Elsewhere, I have in my possession several of Zoltan Fabri's films, including Merry-Go-Round, Sweet Anna and Fifth Seal. It's quite ironic that I've yet to see any of them. The same goes for Baczo's Witness, my copy of which is missing at the moment. I enjoyed seeing Karel Stekly's The Good Soldier Sveijk, so I wouldn't mind seeing another bumbling, comedic character in Witness.

Is Fejos the same as Pal Fejos or Paul Fejos? I have located his Fantomas (1932), but without English subtitles. I have also located Kornel Mundruczo's Delta, plus several of his other films. Great time to be a cinephile if you don't mind bittorrents. I can share an invite with you if you are not too averse to this. Cheers!
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Re: Merry Go Round and the delights of Hungarian Cinema

Postby zivojin panahi » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:40 am

MY WAY HOME (Miklos Jancso, 1965)


Something about the images of war haunts and fascinates
Joseph, a wide-eyed 17-year-old partisan who wanders across
the Hungarian plains on his way home in the final days of
Second World War. He lingers on a war-torn landscape,
and seems uninterested to continue his journey home.
He has not anticipated what will happen shortly. In short order,
the bewildering and harsh lessons of war are brought home
to him, as he gets variously caught in a series of internments
and arrests by renegade Cossacks, bandits, and the advancing
Red Army.

As a prisoner of war, Joseph experiences firsthand the
horrors and absurdities of war. He comes close to death
as he is lumped together with common bandits who are
promptly executed by the Soviets. Released on one of his
captors' pure whims, he wanders around trying to find
armaments left behind and marvels at reconnoitering planes.
Caught wearing a Nazi uniform, he is captured by Soviet
troops again but is spared by virtue of his Hungarian documents.
Instead he is sent to a cow farm manned by a wounded
soldier who is no older than he is. He becomes the soldier’s
assistant in milking the cows, and although they hardly speak
each other’s language at first, they form a strong friendship.

This brotherly bond between the two is captured in a series
of scenes of idyllic bliss, scenes that might remind us of the
memories of the young protagonist in Tarkovsky's Ivan's
Childhood: shooting at frogs with pistols, toppling Greek
statues, chasing after bathing girls, goofing around among ruins.
Scenes that contrast bittersweetly with the evidence of war.
All manner of play enjoyed by teenage boys. Young Joseph also
starts to learn the foreigner’s language and absorbs his thinking,
no more apparent than in a scene where he puts on the soldier’s
uniform and pretends to be one of the Red Army in order to
get help for his bedridden friend. Reminiscent of the freeze-frame
of Antoine Doinel that ends Truffaut’s 400 Blows, a close-up
of young Joseph’s bewildered face ends this movie, coinciding
with the end of war, his own freedom marred by a rude
awakening that he must flee from.

Filmed in stark black and white, My Way Home reflects
many of the themes to be found in Jancso’s other films
set in war, namely Round-Up and Red and White. It is
not so much a pessimistic view of war depicted here as it is
one of naturalism; few virtues can be attributed to war, after
all. It's been told many times before but the retelling here
is done with little comment: the depiction of war's aberrations
happens without warning, not lingered on and sometimes
in long shots that remove a sentimental meditation on them.
The characters are merely figures -- without faces and names
-- caught in the sad dynamics of war. What remains in the final
reckoning are the human casualties, abused and dehumanized
by the changing vicissitudes of war. To the victor, as the old
adage goes, the spoils. Jancso does not wallow in the dark
nature of war, however, as the camera captures an uncommon
friendship between captor and prisoner. The scenes involving
the two boys are the most diverting, the mine-littered Hungarian
plains receding farther and farther back into an almost forgotten
backdrop.
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Re: Merry Go Round and the delights of Hungarian Cinema

Postby kenji » Mon Apr 13, 2009 12:00 pm

Thanks a lot for all that. Yeah, it's the Pal Fejos who made the silent classic Lonesome. Here's a list i've compiled of what i take to be the most notbale or essential Hungarian films

1932 Tavaszi Zapor (Fejos)

1935 Hortobagy (Hollering)

1939 Deadly Spring (Kalmar)

1947 Valahol Europaban (Radvanyi)

1955 Merry Go Round (Fabri)

1964 My Way Home (Jancso)

1965 The Corporal and Others (Keleti)

1966 Cold Days (Kovacs)
Father (Szabo)
Round Up (Jancso)

1967 The Red and the White (Jancso)

1969 The Toth Family (Fabri)
The Witness (Bacso)

1970 The Falcons (Gaal)

1971 Love (Makk)
Red Psalm (Jancso)
Sindbad (Huszarik)

1975 Adoption (Meszaros)

1976 The Fifth Seal (Fabri)

1978 Angi Vera (P.Gabor)

1980 Confidence (Szabo)
The Fly (Rofusz)
Happy Birthday, Marilyn (Szoreny)

1981 Mephisto (Szabo)
Time Stands Still (Gothar)

1982 Another Way (Makk)
A Diary for my Children (Meszaros)

1984 Colonel Redl (Szabo)
Istvan, a Kiraly (Koltay)

1985 Sound Eroticism (Timar)

1987 A Diary for my Loves (Meszaros)

1990 A Diary for my Father and Mother (Meszaros)
Meteo (Mesz)

1992 Junk Movie (Szomjas)
Slap-Jack (Timar)

1994 Satantango (Tarr)

1996 Wind (Ivanyi)

2000 Werckmeister Harmonies (Tarr)

2002 Hukkle (Palfi)

2003 Kontroll (Antal)

2005 Johanna (Mundruczo)

2006 Taxidermia (Palfi)

2007 Connections (H.Gabor)
The Man from London (Tarr)

2008 Delta (Mundruczo)
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