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There was a time when Moscow ruled Budapest, which was a satellite city of the Soviet Union; only now Budapest is having its revenge, by subsuming – so like a mercurial spy – the visage and personality of Moscow so that it will be indistinguishable to movie-goes. Only you – PPM Newsletter reader – and avid film fans will watch the upcoming installment to the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day To Die Hard, with the secret knowledge that under the cloak of Cyrillic lettering and post-Soviet angst lies humble, ever-changeable Budapest: the film’s secret star.
Under police escort, Bruce Willis arrived in our city recently, along with his wife, model Emma Hastings, and their baby. Over several months this spring and early summer, Willis acted in A Good Day to Die Hard, helmed by Behind Enemy Lines director Max Payne. Producer Andrew Vajna (much mentioned in this blog) was no doubt helpful in moving the shoot from its original location – Prague – to Budapest.
Willis may be the star, but Budapest itself deserves second billing. Were Budapest an actor, it would be a versatile character actor, with its proven ability to double as cities as varied as Rome, Paris, Munich, Buenos Aires, and now Moscow. Sometimes Budapest even has the privilege of playing itself (as in the Ralph Fiennes-staring Sunshine), though that is rare in Hollywood film.
We are here with a sneak preview. No, not of the film: that would get us in trouble. Instead, here is a peek at the locations in Budapest that the moviemakers found so attractive.
First up is humble Jósika Utca. Some location scout was doing their job when they made their way into the deep Seventh District and tipped the quaint yet somehow grand three-block long Jósika Street to be used as a backdrop for a street scene. It is one of the rare blocks that was neither flattened by bombing nor by the wave of post-Socialist era development. What’s left is a street of pre-war Renaissance buildings that will stand in for proletariat Moscow (just add street signs in Cyrillic). Jóskia is much beloved for its small town feel and rumpled yet regal feel.
The Baross metro stop is a natural when standing in for Moscow. The Budapest subway, excepting the under-construction line 4, was built with Russian technology, with a plan that was modeled after the Moscow subway, which means long escelators that run deep underground, and cavernous subway stops, used to such good effect in Antal Nimrod’s art-house hit Kontroll.
Andrássy Avenue is an obvious choice. Filled with Neo Renaissance statuary and facades, lined with villas that might suit even the pickiest Oligarch, and a boulevard broad enough to accommodate parades political and cultural, and an opera house envied world-side, Andrássy is imminently filmable. It is not just cherished locally: it was recognized as a World Heritage site in 2002. If there is any doubt it makes a great stand in for the more elegant side of Moscow, you need only look to its former, albeit short-lived name: “Sztálin út” or, Stalin Street.
It is fair to say that Budapest is a most accommodating host as well, considering the amount of territory the shoot will cover, with main arteries in the city’s center, and even the subway, interrupted for filming. In addition to street scenes the film will – as we have come to expect – feature tons of gunfire action and explosions. We are told that the audience will be treated to the sight of a Budapest tram (trolley) blown high into the air: something I am sure many a frustrated passenger will relish.
Will Budapest be able to pull of the hit-job on Moscow without its identity showing through? We have faith that Willis, Vajna, and Payne will help complete the mission without detection.