Country Focus: Hungary
Hungary 2006 - Hungarian blitz on the Croisette
by Fabien Lemercier
14/05/2006 - With three features chosen from among the 26 films made in 2005, Hungary indisputably stands out one of the most visible countries of the 59th edition of the Cannes Film Festival (May 17-28). And this boom is concrete proof of the birth and growth of a nouvelle vague of directors, which already got itself noticed at the 2004 edition of the festival, through Nimrod Antal, and again in 2005 with Kornel Mundruczo.
This year, three more representatives of an exceptional generation of 30 year-olds will be in the spotlight of the world’s most important festival: György Pálfi, Szabolcs Hajdu and Agnes Kocsis. And the trio has a message for professionals and film lovers: the Hungarian industry is in full sail, from both an artistic and financial point of view.
In collaboration with MAGYAR FILMUNIO
The Pálfi phenomenon
One thing is certain: Taxidermia [trailer] by György Pálfi, selected for Un Certain Regard, will leave no one indifferent. After Hukkle , his first and multiple award-winning film of 2002 (which won the European Discovery at the European Film Awards, Special Directing Mention at San Sebastian, among other prizes), the 32 year-old director from Budapest superbly stepped up to the challenge of making a very different film from his debut, a family saga adapted from two short stories by Lajos Parti-Nagy, one of Hungary’s best contemporary authors. Spanning three generations during the second half of the 20th century, Taxidermia is divided into three parts ("Sperm", "Saliva" and "Blood”) and recounts the sexual ghosts of a grandfather, (Vendel Morosgoványi), a father’s (Kálmán Balatony) search for glory in an eating contest, and a son’s (Lajoska Balatony) quest for immortality through taxidermy: three men, prisoners of their instincts. In exploring the connections between the body, identity and emotions, and mixing real and imaginary facts in what he calls fairy-tale realism, Pálfi truly demonstrates a highly original talent that, according to some, resembles the pictorial styles of Bacon and Goya. This talent has already attracted the attention of numerous European producers, seeing as how Taxidermia was co-produced by Hungary (EuroFilm Studio), France (Memento Films and La Cinéfacture) and Austria (Amour Fou Filmproduktion). Made on a €1.93m budget, the film also received backing from the Hungarian Film Foundation, Eurimages, Arte France Cinéma, Duna TV, Vienna Film Fund, ORF and the Austrian Film Institute. The screenplay, written by Pálfi and Zsofia Ruttkay, won an award at Sundance.
Hajdu the virtuoso
A member, like Pálfi, of the Simo promotion of the Film Academy of Budapest, and co-founder with him and other young filmmakers of the Katapult Film production company, Szabolcs Hajdu won over of Directors’ Fortnight programmers with his third feature film, Fehér tenyér [trailer, film focus] (White Palms). In White Palms, the 34 year-old director from Debrecen – who previously helmed Sticky Matters (2001, Best Debut Film at the Hungarian Film Week) and Tamara (2004) – offers a profound social examination in the guise of a sports story, filmed perfectly and set in the world of gymnastics. Inspired by the life of his younger brother Zoltán Miklós Hajdu, who plays himself in the film and currently works for the Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, Szabolcs tells the story of a young Hungarian gymnast whose career is cut short by an accident. He subsequently begins training a young Canadian athlete (Athens Olympic champion Kyle Shewfelt), whom he leads to the heights of athletic glory. The story allowed the director to ably tackle diverse sociological and moral issues, such as father-son relationships, the imparting of an Eastern Europe athletic education to a young Westerner, and the need to find one’s own values in order to escape the pressures of trainers and relatives. The film also includes several high-tension scenes, especially in the finale, for which Hajdu shared the glory at the Hungarian Film Week with Pálfi, where he picked up several awards, including Best Director, Best Cinematography (András Nagy) and the Gene Moskowitz Prize given by the foreign press.
The Kocsis discovery
Announced as a wonderful surprise by the International Critics’ Week selection committee, Fresh Air [trailer] is the debut feature by Ágnes Kocsis, who will also present her 27-minute A Virus at Cannes, as part of the Cinéfondation programme. A sensational arrival for the 35 year-old director, with two films made as a result of her studies at the Hungarian Film Academy (SZFE). French critic for Télérama Pierre Murat, and also one of the Critics Week selectors, Fresh Air "tells a simple story in a working-class setting, is a film on the propagation of social class and benefits from noteworthy performances. Behind its austere façade there hides humour in a desperate environment where there is nevertheless hope". Winner of the Best Debut Film Award at the Hungarian Film Week, Kocsis, who wrote the screenplay with Andrea Roberti, depicts the difficult relationship between a mother (Julia Nyako), who works as a bathroom attendant, and her daughter (Izabella Hegyi), an adolescent who dreams of becoming a stylist and escape the shame she feels over her mother’s job. Non-communication, the delicate passage from childhood to adulthood, the contrast between dream and reality and the daily rituals of two women: with tremendous sensitivity, the director carves out fragments of life that touch upon these universal themes. Furthermore, the subtle direction – in particular, the long, stationary sequences that give the actors time to best express themselves, and an art of framing that reveals a wealth of details easily missed at first glance – make Kocsis a director to watch closely. She is yet another talented filmmaker of Hungarian cinema, which can also count on Krisztina Goda, Benedek Fliegauf, Attila Mispál, Roland Vranik, Aron Gauder and Ferenc Török. A formidable group from a small but impressive industry that would make even much larger countries proud.