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Hopes high for Hungarian filmmaking (The Budapest Times)

Hopes high for Hungarian filmmaking (The Budapest Times)

Hungarian cinema returns to Cannes competition with Tarr flick
by Michael Logan
The annual back-slapping marathon that is the Cannes Film Festival kicks off this year on 16 May and for the first time in 19 years a Hungarian director stands a chance of receiving the heartiest slap of all - the coveted Golden Palm.
Béla Tarr, renowned for his moody and atmospheric work, is in the competition with A Londoni Férfi (The Man from London), based on a story by Inspector Maigret creator Georges Simenon. Tarr’s entry is the first Hungarian effort since István Szabó, the only Hungarian director to win an Oscar, unsuccessfully competed for the top prize in 1988. Hungary is delighted with the nomination, and industry insiders feel it shows filmmakers are finally finding their feet after the end of Communist censorship in 1989 completely changed they way they could make films.
Tarr, 51, is considered one of the leading lights of Hungarian cinema. His earlier film, Werckmeister Harmonies, appeared at the 2000 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight to critical acclaim, yet this is his first appearance in competition at a major festival.
The Man from London tells the tale of a railway switchman who witnesses a murder on a nearby dockside and then appropriates a suitcase full of money left behind. Information on the film is sketchy to say the least, but many are expecting good things.
Just desserts
“Tarr has always had a great reputation in Hungary as both a storyteller and an innovator,” said John Nadler, Variety Magazine’s Hungarian film correspondent. “The one thing you can expect from him is a fascinating, well-conceived film.”
The film, starring Britain’s Tilda Swinton, the Czech Republic’s Miroslav Krobot, and Hungary’s János Derzsi, very nearly did not get made, however. The project was suspended less than two weeks into filming in 2005 after producer Humbert Balsan died. The resultant battle between producers over rights and financing was only resolved in 2006.
It ended up a joint venture by Tarr’s production company T.T. Filmmûhely and French and German producers, receiving funding from the Hungarian Motion Picture Foundation and other bodies to make up the EUR 5.3 million production cost.
Tarr himself is keeping a low profile - his production company said he was too busy in the studio dubbing the film to talk - but others are more than happy to sing his praises.
“We consider it a great achievement to have this film in competition,” said Éva Vezér, head of Hungarian cinema’s promotion office Magyar Filmunió. “It is difficult to know if it has a chance of winning, but we are keeping our fingers crossed. Tarr is an outstanding auteur of our times.”
Vezér believes that it is only now that Hungarian film has recovered from the hangover of Communism to get itself back on a firm footing.
Communism’s shackles
“Hungarian film was always famous for expressing itself in a certain way in order to criticise [the regime],” she said. “With the changes it was difficult for directors to find a new way of expressing themselves. It took some time for them to learn the new language of filmmaking.”
Nadler concurs, and also thinks that attitudes are beginning to change.
“During the Communist era, the industry adopted this highly stylised, new wave approach that stressed image over character and story,” he said. “This style kept Hungary out of trouble with censors…the industry is now starting to change its approach in the new era.”
According to Vezér, the new approach is reaping the rewards.
“In the past few years, the young generation has started to come through and we have seen films win awards,” she said, citing such films as Before Dawn, which won Best Short Film at the 2006 European Film Awards.
Other young directors such as György Pálfi, 33, and Antal Nimród, also 33, have also been drawing critical acclaim
Pálfi’s bizarre film Hukkle (Hiccup) - which is set in a tiny Hungarian village and has almost no dialogue - won a string of awards, as did Nimród’s Kontroll, a dark comedy about the subterranean world of metro ticket inspectors. Nimrod has now gone on to direct his Hollywood debut, the horror flick Vacancy, which despite receiving lukewarm reviews did relatively well at the box office when it opened last month.
If you build it...
The renaissance may even go further with the opening of the new Korda film studio, a newly-opened complex in Etyek, near Budapest. Many international productions - such as Steven Spielberg’s Munich - have been coming to Hungary, attracted by a 20% rebate on money spent locally, but industry observers have always pointed out the lack of soundstages as a bottleneck.
Korda boasts massive soundstages and will offer the largest underwater soundstage in the world. Hellboy 2 is just about to begin filming in the complex, and hopes have been raised that even more international productions will come to Hungary.
While Vezér believes it may be hard for Hungarian films to get into the facility ahead of major international productions, Nadler sees side benefits.
“The more foreign interest that comes to Hungary as a result of the Film Tax Law and new studio the more money, expertise, and knowledge will be pumped into the system,” he said. “That is certain to spur on the locals.”
Michael Logan