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Archive for the ‘Famous Hungarians’ Category

As autumn turns the leaves from vibrant greens to smokey reds and yellows, we thought it would be an ideal time to revisit one of the more intriguing locations in the city: the City Park. You may recognize the plaza Hero’s Square, which is front and center in the park, as the location for Michael Jackson’s video for “History,” but there is so much else to discover. With that in mind, we revisit Városliget, Budapest’s City Park:

In 1882 Nikola Tesla was walking through the Budapest City Park (Városliget), when he envisioned how to make alternating current work to power a motor. He claims that he looked out over the trees at the sunset, recited a line of Goethe, and the solution came to him in a flash of inspiration. He etched a rudimentary plan for the motor in the park dirt with a stick. His invention would bring him to American and make him both rich and famous. Who can say whether the conditions of Budapest’s strange and relaxing city park helped him come to his discovery, but it sure makes reflection easy, while offering up its own strange inspirations.

varosliger Budapest City Park

via Budapestnet.hu

The park comprises 302 acres of trees and paths, with museums, pubs, and even a zoo situated within its confines to keep park-enthusiasts entertained. OK, these amenities can be expected of any first-rate city park, but Városliget has a few peculiar monuments and structures that truly distinguish it and give it a unique character.

Budapest's City Park Ice Rink

via Wikipedia

First off – and if you are American you are likely to do a double take here – the Városliget is home to one of the only statues of US presidents in Hungary: George Washington (the other, of Ronald Reagan, was recently erected in District V). Hungary’s great leader Lajos Kossuth was commemorated in Cleveland, Ohio, with a statue; Hungarians returned the gesture in 1906 with a statue of Washington. According to the Hungarian American Federation, at the unveiling “Thousands lined the streets to watch the parade through Budapest as the ‘Stars and Stripes and the Hungarian colors intertwined were to be seen everywhere’. ” Amazingly, the statue remained through the Communist era, and still stands today.

In striking contrast is the nearby pub called Pántlika (ribbon) for its red ribbon-like shape. Built for the 1970s, the structure was originally used as an information booth for a Socialist-era trade exhibition, and the red shape was intended to resemble a red star from above. These days it is a great place to stop for a bowl of traditional Hungarian bean soup or a traditional American hamburger. Note that the interior is loaded with authentic Communist paraphernalia, making it feel like a step back in time.

hungarian restaurant

And, of course the Városliget is also home to Széchenyi Baths, which we paid homage to in a previous post, which you can check out here. Tesla’s etching of his alternating current motor has long been wiped away, but plenty more discoveries await at Budapest’s world class park.

via szechenyifurdo..hu

via szechenyifurdo..hu

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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It should be no surprise that the artist known as Flea landed in a band called the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, because like so many international entertainers, he is secretly Hungarian! And Hungary is known for its hot red paprika, just like Flea is known as one of the top rock bassists on the planet. But Flea wasn’t always ‘Flea’: he started life as Michael Peter Balzary, son of a Hungarian immigrant to Australia. After moving with his father to the States, the younger Balzary met Anthony Kiedis, with whom he eventually formed the Red Hot Chilli Peppers in Los Angeles, California. Since 1983 they have played to punk, indie, and arena rock fans world-wide, even stopping in Budapest every now and again, though they have yet to concede that the Peppers are paprika-influenced.

photo by Leon Wilson via Wikipedia

photo by Leon Wilson via Wikipedia

Note to heavy metal musicians: it’s had to go wrong with a name like Bathory. We speak of the Hungarian countess Erzsébet Báthory, known among horror enthusiasts as the ‘female Dracula’, who (very wrongly) was accused of bathing in the blood of her maids to keep young looking. Carrying on the name is Zoltan Bathory, founder and guitarist of the super popular American metal band Five Finger Death Punch. Bathory was born in Hungary, but now makes his home in LA. In addition to being a mean guitarist, he is an entrepreneur and martial arts expert, bathing in the blood of his opponents, we suppose.

photo by Sarah Dope via Wikipedia

photo by Sarah Dope via Wikipedia

Lastly, we have John Popper of Blues Traveler fame. The multi-talented front man shares the same last name as famed Hapsburgian philosopher Karl Popper, though it is not known if they are related. Popper’s father was a Hungarian who fled war-torn Europe for America in 1948. The younger Popper originally wanted to be a comedian, but found more success playing the harmonica. Since he shot to fame in the 90s with prog rock band Blues Traveler, he has won a Grammy for his music. Though Blues Traveler was huge State-side, you don’t see them around Hungary too much. To remedy that, can we suggest a festival featuring an all Hungarian-American lineup?

photo by Rafael Rezende via Wikipedia

photo by Rafael Rezende via Wikipedia

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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Making the rounds on local social media as of late is this elegant and moving tribute to the 1956 Uprising in Hungary, where a largely spontaneous attempt to forcibly unseat the Soviet-imposed government was brutally put down. Here we have Oscar winner and film royalty Dame Judi Dench reading the poem “We Cannot Know” by Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti. Radnóti – one of Hungary’s most-loved and canonized poets from the last century – was a Hungarian Jew who was killed in the Holocaust on a forced march across the country. He was buried in a mass grave, and later exhumed, precipitating the discovery of a notebook in his coat pocket that contained his last and most famous verse, entitled, depending on the edition, Cloudy, Frothy, or Foamy Sky. “We Cannot Know” was one of the poems in that recovered volume.

This ode to his homeland shows why Radnóti, along with the poets of his generation, is being rediscovered by audiences worldwide. What precipitated the recording of this 1978 video appears lost to the ages, but we are grateful for its existence. And if you are feeling adventurous, or just want to hear what the poem sounds like in Hungarian, we included that version as well. You’re welcome.


PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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10841553_10153367322168154_676136050_nHungarian born and educated writer/director/actor Can Togay János is truly a man of the world. Born of Turkish parents in Budapest, he has spent extended periods in Finland, France and Germany, where he was the head of the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin and the cultural attaché of the Hungarian Embassy (and now teaches at the Babelsberg Film School). As a filmmaker, he has seen much success, having had his 1992 film A nyaraló (The Summer Guest) screened at Cannes, and wrote the screenplay to the high profile Hungarian film Hídember (Bridgeman). In addition to numerous writing, acting and directing credits, he has authored a volume of poetry.

Below, find a recent interview with Togay, originally published in German in Kultúrpart in November 25 of 2014. The interview was conducted by Ayhan Gökhan.

 

 
You are an actor, director, screenwriter, poet, and cultural expert. You are currently teaching in Berlin. Which title do you gravitate towards? Or is that determined by what you are doing at that given moment?

Let’s say that all I really wanted was to become a musician, but since that didn’t come to fruition, all of those activities (the ones you mentioned as well as all the others – all my conceptual work, for example) really take the place of that. This could be one answer to the question. Or perhaps it is that I am a person of all trades; it’s both my strength and my weakness that I have to do lot of different things, so that I keep moving and don’t stagnate. It took a lot of time for me to recognize that I should accept this unstoppable nature within myself and not be ashamed of it. Now, I more freely go after what interests me, and remain flexible in adapting to the demands. And in all of these different areas I am able to quickly identify those avenues through which I can connect to each task. So as not to be trite, I’ve avoided using the word “creative” here, but certainly it could have been inserted here and there. In terms of those different titles, it was never my explicit desire to have a guilded occupation – perhaps quite the opposite. But I wouldn’t say that that was my priority either. From a simple marketing perspective, people tend to erase this multiplicity, and so if I have to, I call myself a filmmaker, because you need a lot of money for that and so you might be asked for your credentials.

Let me make a personal comment. We are both of Turkish descent, but neither of us speaks Turkish as our mother tongue. I’ve heard from many Turkish people – from gyros sellers to the most educated – that those who do not speak Turkish are not Turkish. Still, this Turkish descent has to mean something. What does this Turkishness mean to you – how much to you feel that it is part of your identity? Apart from the simple fact of your descent, how does it manifest itself for you that you are Turkish?

Well, this is not an easy question, so you shouldn’t count on a satisfactory response. There is no more multifarious and complex task than a person’s identity. In any case, I recommend that you rely on consulting kebab sellers on this topic. In my youth, some Turkish guests of my family questioned my manliness, pointing to me and asking, “bıyıksız adam olur mu?” which means “what kind of man has no moustache?” It’s true that my parents are Turkish, or more precisely they consider themselves to be Turkish, seeing that this notion of “Turkish” is a kind of construction that only arose following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the twentieth century. Even though I have all these Turkish relatives, I have struggled endlessly with the Turkish language and haven’t got nearly as far with it as I have with Hungarian or even German. Besides being a Hungarian citizen, I am also a Turkish citizen, which should otherwise somehow reflect on my identity. Hungarian culture is where I feel most at home, yet through my parents, I have been exposed to numerous other influences.

The flipside of the question is that besides ‘descent,’ ‘foreignness’ is also key here. Clearly, those who have to deal with multiple identities, also have many opportunities to experience ‘foreignness.’ This is a much more fundamental lesson than the question of descent. Wrestling with this is a lifelong endeavor. The paradox, meanwhile, is that this sense of ‘foreignness’ also helps to build a sense of identity – which one the person holds on to, which one they don’t want to give up… at the same time, overcoming that ‘foreignness’ is the most intense urge. One can find meaning in their line of descent if they go after it, if it interests them, if the look into it and it enriches them. But the question of identity is different, and if it emerges in this way, it will never be resolved. It should be a comfort that there are so many different forms of inner divisiveness, and especially this one could be particularly fruitful. The mother of a Greek friend of mine comes to mind. At one time, for the purpose of clarification, she put the question to me: “So now what do you consider yourself: Turkish or Hungarian?”, to which nothing else came to mind than that I should reply, “Someone to whom one could intelligently ask this question”…

Have you thought about what your life would have been like if you had spent your youth in Turkey?

Yes, I have thought about it. At the same time, it’s important to mention that I was born in Hungary. In fact, it is a mathematical certainty that the fundamental precondition of my life, my conception, was that my parents had to come to Hungary. From this perspective, only Hungary can be connected to my person in terms of being a homeland. Actually, Turkey could only have been the place of my youth if my parents had decided at some point in my childhood to return to Turkey, or rather, if they had felt that they could have returned. Considering how their emigration from Turkey, or rather the Cold War, played such a decisive role in their lives, such a decision would have had consequences that I have never even entertained, but that would have fundamentally influenced this imagined childhood and youth. It wouldn’t be very hard to see what this simulated fate would have looked like; it is enough to just look at the lives of my cousins. Upper-middle class in Istanbul, international studies and jobs in the lawyer-psychologist-manager sphere. But the summers of this “childhood” in Istanbul would most certainly have been spent at my grandmother’s on the island of Büyük Ada with the blue sea and many boats on the horizon. My “youth,” however, would have resulted in witnessing several military coups and exciting, though physically dangerous, political action – at least if I look to my father for inspiration and examine Turkish history of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. But as it seems, fate had a different environment and a different youth in store for me.

togay2

Let’s return to the theatre. You worked as an actor in Péter Halász’s theatre troupe. What did you learn from Péter Halász that has stuck with you over the years?

As a teenager, I became close to Péter Halász and certainly during that period of time he influenced me in all sorts of ways. Exactly how, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint easily. If I really try, maybe it was at that point that my skepticism towards every kind of group mentality started. At that time, despite all of his radicalism – and contrary to his immediate milieu – Péter didn’t lean towards doctrinarianism. He was an independent individual. He was never attached to dogma. He didn’t need it. He was a very intelligent man. If this is teaching, then let’s consider it so – and try to learn from it.

You have a book of poetry entitled Railroad Crossing and Train [Fénykutya és vonat]; you wrote the screenplay for The Bridgeman [A Hídember] with Géza Beremény; you have appeared in several award-winning films; you directed the films The Summer Guest [A Nyaraló] and One Winter Behind God’s Back [Egy tél az Isten háta mögött]. What are you working on at the moment? A book of poetry, a film, a screenplay?

You’ve left several different types of children off that list of names, most notably those that I did for others or together with others. Let’s think of them for a moment so that they don’t feel abandoned. In terms of my next projects, as I mentioned, I usually work on several plans at the same time (in this I am certainly not alone). Among them there is a screenplay, a separate film project, an art installation, an architecture PR project, all kinds of probable and hopeful business. In terms of poetry, that first volume was a selection of 30 years worth of work and really it was only the weight of the work that had amassed that pressed me to publish some of it. So it kind of operates according to the laws of physics – mass and time, rather than intentionality. I especially like it like this, because the lyric, the verse is my own private garden and inner need, and it’s important to me that I should be able to wander about it freely and without intent. Meanwhile, what signals an interesting new phase of my life is that after a long break I’ve been asked to do some acting again, so it’s going to happen for sure next summer; one way or another, I am going to work on a film-set again.

Until this summer you were the director of the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin. What kinds of changes did you bring to the institution? How do you see the role of Hungarian culture in the broader scope of European culture? Does it stand up in a European context, or is there still a lot of catching up that needs to be done?

The seven years I spent at the CHB were a big adventure for me. It saved me from a somewhat stagnant and frustrated period of my life. I was able to take all of my pent up energy and in one fell swoop direct it toward my work at the institution. It was an energy to which the ministerial and administrative mechanism was not accustomed. But in just a short time, that energy invigorated my colleagues and those at the institutions we worked closely with, and in spite of their resistance at the beginning, I noticed that they also started to enjoy that we were able to do everything with such a fundamentally vague institution as a foreign cultural institute. My goal was to entirely reposition the Berlin Hungarian Institute along with its cultural diplomacy activities and corresponding school of thought. I decided that instead of operating purely as a foreign cultural institute, we should make a cultural centre in Berlin that could offer the Hungarian perspective on broader European questions. These are big goals and I surprised myself too that, as it turned out, in the end the biggest challenges didn’t prove to be exaggerations. The Collegium Hungaricum Berlin is currently still by far the most innovative foreign cultural institute in Berlin, and I only dare to say that because my colleagues running the other foreign cultural institutions have convinced me of it. At the same time, Berlin itself considers the CHB to be an important part of its local cultural industry. This is the opinion rather of the municipal Senate of Berlin and the German institutions and foundations that have financially supported our work in crucial ways.

In terms of the role of Hungarian culture, I assume that the question doesn’t mean whether or not it has a role in European culture – if not there, then where else would it have a role? – but rather how intense its presence, how much it has an impact creatively? I don’t have an instrument with which to measure this. It is true that compared to how things were several decades ago and those hidden ambitions, Hungarian literature has carved out an almost unbelievable position for itself internationally, especially if we consider the undeniable linguistic isolation that should have implied acceptance by so few. This suggests that anything is possible. There are few things that can place a nation on the international map like an open, effervescent, and exciting cultural life. For this, you need two things: an open, effervescent, and exciting cultural life and support for that. But this isn’t just a question of the arts; the reality is much broader and more complex. Despite its sharp conflicts and inconsistencies, and precisely because of them, the cultural life in Hungary is undeniably exciting. This is something of great value that should be supported, and I think that one could draw a uniquely interesting and exciting picture of Hungary. One just has to accept it with all of its conflicts. At the same time, this is all only possible through collaboration. I believe that the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin only became successful in its activities because it combined high quality work with a constant renewal of its fiduciary mandate, and because through open dialogue it was able to agree upon what would be in the best long-term interest of Hungary.

They named you the director of the Hungarian Institute in Istanbul. Did you turn this opportunity down because of another career path, namely so that you could teach at the Babelsberg Film School? Why did you make this decision? You were not so attracted to Turkey, or you just wanted to keep working in a German-speaking environment?

I need to correct something. It was not that I turned down the opportunity. In fact, I applied for the job and I was happy when they offered it to me. At the same time, a long time before my Istanbul application, I had applied to be a script development teacher at the Babelsberg Film School in Berlin. Because of the very long hiring process in German academia, I only received positive feedback on my application after the Istanbul offer. When I got the offer from Istanbul, I told my bosses that if the Berlin job came through, I would give up my post as director of the Hungarian Institute in Istanbul. Considering my Turkish roots that we have already discussed, this wasn’t an easy decision, but I felt that it was time to return to film if I wanted to give myself another opportunity for creative work in that field. Working with young people and project plans, the energy of film-making definitely held the promise of a very exciting reconnection for me. The short time that I have spent there has already confirmed this. I enjoy my work, and I have even been able to make time for my own film projects. Judging from my years in Berlin, I wouldn’t have been able to do that while working in Istanbul. In terms of Turkey, I expect that after I get into a bit of a routine at the university, I will be able to continue my adventure there, that has started with the opening of the Istanbul Institute but as a personal endeavor rather than as an official mandate.

Interviewer: Ayhan Gökhan

From Kultúrpart, November 25, 2014

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

 

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Some time ago, not long after the conception of this blog, we profiled a few actors who – quite unexpectedly – have Hungarian roots. Who would have guessed Jerry Seinfeld and Goldie Hawn are direct descendants of Hungarians? After much research, we have come up with a trove of other Hollywood screen legends whose parents or grandparents were Hungarian. This list is impressive and long, so for now we will limit our profiles to just a two. But what a pair.

photo by Georges Biard

photo by Georges Biard

Adrien Brody: As noted a few weeks ago, when his mini-series Houdini premiered, Adrien Brody – the Peter O’Toole of our generation – has a Hungarian mother: the celebrated photographer Sylvia Plachy. Though he acted since his teen years, Brody came to the broader public’s attention for roles in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam and Terrence Malick’s Thin Red Line. Brody famously made front-page news with his Best Actor win at the 2004 Oscars for his role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. There was also that issue of the acceptance speech kiss. Since then his output has been high and high profile, with roles in Wes Anderson and Woody Allen films. The latest, as mentioned, was Houdini, which brought Brody to Budapest, where the series was shot.

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

Paul Newman: man’s man, leading actor’s leading actor, and perhaps the most legendary actor in the history of Hollywood film. The actor’s grandfather was Simon Newman, and emigrant from Hungary. His parents brought him up in Shaker Heights, Ohio – a place that was a popular hub for Hungarian immigrants (why is that? If you have any guesses, other than the flat, broad farmlands that are so similar to the Hungarian countryside, we would like to know). Newman’s accolades include an Oscar for The Color of Money, along with eight other Academy Award nominations. Films like Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting were perfect vehicles for his suave, rebellious on-screen personae. Philanthropist, auto racer, family man, Newman led a full life before is recent death in 2008. Sadly, he never made a film in Hungary.

Can you think of any more stars or starlets with Hungarian roots? (Zsa Zsa Gabor excluded, please). Leave them in the comments.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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la-et-st-adrien-brody-houdini-LATIMES

Source: LA Times

“Iron will made him famous. Genius made him legendary.” That’s the tag-line for the mini-series Houdini, which premiered in England and the US this week. The four-hour film was shot in Budapest, which is fitting, as it is a little-known fact that – though typically identified as American – Harry Houdini was in fact Hungarian. More curious, Adrien Brody, who plays the famous magician, is also at least of partial Hungarian extraction, as his mother is the the Budapest-born photographer Sylvia Plachy.

Houdini himself came into this world in 1874 as Erik Weisz, also born in Budapest. Though he was considered more of a stunt performer, and made his name by performing daring escapes, his craft fell under the umbrella of magic. It was after emigrating to the United States that he was nicknamed ‘Harry’ by friends, who riffed on his Anglicized name He only acquired the name Houdini after falling under the influence of French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Houdini was initially something of a disappointment as a magician. He tried his hand at card tricks in the sideshows and cheap nickelodeons of New York, but found little success. It was then that he decided to become more novel, and transform himself into an escape artist. His initial feats of escape brought him a small amount of fame on the Vaudville circuit in America, but his really publicity coup came when he was touring Europe, and was challenged to escape from a pair of Scotland Yard handcuffs. He succeeded, and before long, Houdini was being invited to escape from jails and shackles all across Europe. For much of his career, he was one of the highest paid performers in America, eventually supplementing his career with film roles. Houdini died in 1926 of acute appendicitis, aggravated by several blows to the stomach delivered by a skeptical audience member.

houdiniposter

Brody was quoted in the LA Times as saying “I wanted to convey the truth of an illusion, an understanding of the man, the complexity of the motivations behind him, the youthful sincerity he possessed and the cynical exhausted state that he subjected himself to. And make the magic tricks work.” About the location of Budapest, the mini-series producer Gerald W. Abrams said in the New York Post: “ (Budapest) has more turn-of-the-century architecture — that’s the 18th century — than almost any city in Western culture. It’s got a lot of patina.”

We’ll call this return a sort of homecoming for the partially Hungarian actor. It may be just a coincidence, if not ‘magic’.

houdiniBrodyposter

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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symphony42

We are always pleased to report success for local talent abroad. Lately, Hungarian film-makers have won major prizes at festivals from Cannes to Karlovy Vary. The most recent triumph takes us quite far from Hungary, and indeed the European continent – all the way to Japan, where the short film Symphony no, 42, by film-maker Réka Bucsi, won the Hiroshima prize at the fourteenth Hiroshima International Animation Film Festival. After the main prize, the Hiroshima prize is the festival’s most prestigious award.

In their own words, the “Hiroshima International Animation Festival was established in 1985, as a project commemorating the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing. From the beginning, Hiroshima City and ASIFA shared a same idea, that is, to promote the international mutual understanding and to pursue eternal world peace through the development of animation art, which is a medium common to all human beings beyond nations and languages.”

The festival is a biennial, and this year attracted 2,110 entries from 63 countries and regions. Moreover, 34,715 people participated over the course of the five days of the festival. It is fitting that a Hungarian film won, as Hungary was the featured guest country this year. The Hiroshima prize totaled 1 million yen, just over 10,000 dollars. This year’s theme was “Love and Peace.” The six-person jury commented that Symphony no. 42 aptly reflected the theme, and cited its unique and original “animation language” as justification for the win. Bucsi, still in her twenties, studied at Budapest’s prestigious Moholy-Nagy University of Art, and clearly has a bright future here and abroad. It’s a huge win for the young film-maker, and one more reason to celebrate local talent.

source: hg.hu

source: hg.hu

Below you can find the teaser for the longer (though still short) film.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

 

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VIA: The Plain Dealer/Landov/Barcroft Media

VIA: The Plain Dealer/Landov/Barcroft Media

It’s been a long time since Sharon Stone flashed her talent on the screen in 1992’s Basic Instinct, but the film remains fixed in the popular imagination as an example of devilishly subversive post-noir. Its massive commercial success not only established its female lead as an icon, but also made its screenwriter – Joe Eszterhaz – the most sought after screenwriter in Hollywood. But of course Joe is just an abbreviation for József – and Eszterhaz derives from the House of Esterházy, one of Hungary’s oldest of aristocratic dynasties, the same family from which springs Hungarian novelist  Péter Esterházy .

Long before he went on to pen the films that would pull in a staggering billion dollars in revenue, baby József could be found living in the sleepy Hungarian village Csákánydoroszló. But this was 1944 when Hungary was in the midst of World War Two. His parents emigrated – first to New York City, and then to a Hungarian enclave in Cleveland, Ohio. After completing his studies, Eszterhaz’s first proper job was working as a reporter for the newspaper the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a position he lost by refusing to promote the paper on a solo transatlantic boat trip. His first screenplay to be produced was the somewhat overlooked drama F.I.S.T, starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by Norman Jewison. From there he went on to pen films that would typify the 80’s aesthetic of highly sexualized thrillers: Jagged Edge, Jade, Betrayed, Sliver, and, of course, Basic Instinct.

basic-instinct-1-tdkuyra6mx-1024x768

Though a few flops slowed Eszterhaz’s output of produced films, he remains one of the most prolific and all-time bankable screenwriters in the history of Hollywood. Recently, his gaze has turned back to Hungary, his country of birth. The wonderful story of the 1956 Hungarian Olympic water polo team Children of Glory, was – though filmed in Hungarian – based on his screenplay, and released in 2006.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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via Wikipedia commons

via Wikipedia commons

On the last day of January of this year, Miklós Jancsó, one of Hungary’s greatest film directors, died. Born in 1921, he began to make films in the 1950s, and continued to do so up until his death. His name is well known to students of international film, fans of art-house cinema, and just about anybody who has been inside a movie theater in his home country. Over the course of his career he was nominated five times for the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival – winning once – and was awarded a lifetime achievement award, also at Cannes. His best known works are The Round Up (Szegénylegények, 1965), The Red and the White (Csillagosok, katonák, 1967) and Red Psalm (Még kér a nép, 1971). Wikipedia sums up his style as follows: “Jancsó’s films are characterized by visual stylization, elegantly choreographed shots, long takes, historical periods, rural settings, and a lack of psychoanalyzing. A frequent theme of his films is the abuse of power. His works are often allegorical commentaries on Hungary under Communism and the Soviet occupation, although some critics prefer to stress the universal dimensions of Jancsó’s explorations. Towards the end of the 1960s and especially into the 1970s, Jancsó’s work became increasingly stylized and overtly symbolic.”

Below, find the last interview with Miklós Jancsó, originally published in Index.hu, and translated and reprinted with their permission.

 

Perhaps most characteristically in The Round-Up (Szegénylegények), but certainly in many of Jancsó’s films, the connections between the individual and the state, and between the law and the establishment appear. This is not a total coincidence given that Miklós Jancsó was a lawyer before his film career; in fact, he almost had a career in law. On September 1, 2012, the film director gave his last interview to the magazine Ügyvéd Világ [Lawyers World], László Bodolai (lawyer for Index), and Aranka Szávuly.

 Before your film career, you studied law. Why was that, or more precisely, why did you ultimately choose not to practise law?

Actually, I went into law because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be. That was the “communications degree” of the time; in other words, whoever didn’t know what they wanted to be went into law. Because of this there were tons of lawyers who never really went to class; at most they just took their exams. I always sat there, though; in fact, I really loved ethnography and sat in on those classes too.

Which university did you attend?

I did one semester at Pécs. I lived on campus there. After that, I went to Kolozsvár, because at the time, my father was an administrator and he was transferred there; we went with him. Actually, my family is quite strange—a half Romanian, half Hungarian family. My two siblings and I lived here; everyone else lived in Erdély. My mother was one of 12 children, my father one of 10. We used to have these family celebrations where ‘just close family’ meant that there were 122 people there.

What was your favorite subject?

I was interested in Roman law. The professor was named Nándor Óriás, (in Hungarian Óriás means ‘giant’) and he was actually 140 cm tall. I also loved the legal philosopher Barna Horváth’s lectures. He dealt with the politics of freedom. From him, we learnt that the law is freedom—and that the law can only be built upon freedom.

It is quite interesting that someone should stress this, namely that the law is freedom…

I don’t know what university life is like now, but back then there were all kinds of people. We were some kind of folksy-anti-German clique. We had a club too.

Would you say that the fact that you had to think under a regime had an effect on your way of thinking?

Maybe… I was a paralegal for an attorney. I prepared and delivered legal documents, taking them all over the place. There was still a chance that I would continue to be a lawyer. Then came the war. I fell into the hands of the Russians.

How did that happen?

At the end of the war, those who were attending university were pulled out of the army; I wasn’t called up either. As it goes, on March 18, 1944, I received my diploma. The next day the Germans marched in. The claws of the state machinery were slowly reaching the people. If it came out that someone had finished university, those claws came after them, as they did me. By the summer, the Romanians had dropped out of the war, and beaurocrats, like my father, returned to Hungary (along with us, of course). My older sister lived in Székesfehérvár with her husband, who was an army officer. We went to live with them. When they were bombed out of the army base, we moved into a house in a small village. Within a week, the neighbors reported that there was a young man there who hadn’t gone into the army. Naturally, they drafted me right away to serve at Mór. There were no longer any weapons or uniforms, just the rules—not even any barracks. I had a colleague who said that I should go to the squad leader and give him money. Then they would decommission me. I went to him; they decommissioned me. I went back to the village, and the gendarmerie came after me. My brother-in-law was an officer in the flying corps. He sent them away, but made me enlist again—this time to his unit. It was great, because there were no airplanes there, no petrol. After that came the Russians and everyone went West. But my brother-in-law, who was Serbian and a Hungarian soldier, announced that he was not going to leave his country. So, we waited for the Russians. He came back three and a half years later, and I came back half a year later.

The Round Up

The Round-Up

Where were you held as a prisoner of war?

I was next to Leningrad in the old summer home of a tsar. We were rebuilding it. Within half a year, I contracted pneumonia. There was no medicine, or rather the only medicine was bedrest. Are you familiar with [Tivadar] Csontváry’s telegram?

Which one are you thinking of?

When the news came that Emperor Franz Joseph had taken ill, Csontváry wrote: “Put the Emperor out in the sun. Stop. I want a report. Stop. Csontváry. Stop.” The Russians treated my illness the same way; they put me out in the sun. Later, a doctor took pity on me and sent me home. I was taken prisoner on Easter day, and returned home on November 4th. For the next year I was bedridden.

What happened after you regained your strength? You didn’t go back to practising law?

I almost did. I registered with the bar; I even had a mentor, but nothing came of it. When I started to look for my old gang, it turned out that there was a college where you could study film and theatre. I had wanted to be a theatre director my whole life. At the entrance exam, after a long conversation with Béla Balázs, he suggested that I go into film. I graduated in 1951. Last year, I received my diamond diploma.

How did you cope with the Rákosi era? It is difficult to imagine the how you could have managed, given your demeanor.

I was a left-leaning-populist, and we listened to Western radio stations, too. We knew that what they said was different from reality. One time, we heard a Hungarian broadcast of the Russian radio, in which they read out the entire Russian constitution. In the first elections, in 1947, my friends sided with the National Peasant Party, while I sided with the Radicals. By 1949, there was only one party. At that time I said, what the hell, something isn’t right here; they are taking advantage of the people. From then on, until the end of the Communist regime, I didn’t vote—not even once.

And what could you do with a film degree?

No one else was able to work in the film industry except for those who had a diploma. We were able to get work, jobs, right away. I was assigned to work for the television news.

But didn’t you have to make propaganda films?

There were two film studios—one that made feature films and one that made documentaries (part of the television news). Six of us got our diplomas—four of us went to the feature film studio, and two of us went to the television news.

And what did they teach you in college?

Nothing. We watched films and argued about them. István Szőcs swayed us toward Romantic-folksy films, but they didn’t really show us any American films, for example. However, we did go to the movies a lot. During that time, Ferenc Hont became the director of the college. He was a real leftist intellectual. He started the Szeged Open-Air Festival. He was good with the theatre, but not so much with film. In 1949, some of the students—maybe the circle around Karcsi Makk and Bacsó—took it upon themselves to make a film, some kind of story about the Young Pioneers. They got money for it too, and shot it at the Pioneer camp at Csillaberc. At that time, sound machines were about 200 kilos each. You needed two men to lift them. The lighter cameras were the German Arriflex cameras, but they had no sound recording capabilities and you could only work within a 60-meter radius. In other words, it was serious work to make a film with sound. All of a sudden Ferenc Hont showed up. He wanted to contribute his expertise to the project. At that moment, there was no lens on the camera, and so he looked into the panning arm. Such was the level of instruction at that time.

And how did you live through 1956?

With luck. I was in China at the time. There was an army band—orchestra, choir, soloists, dancers, maybe 300 people in all, and they were invited to China. The “brother countries” were really involved with each other, travelling back and forth. My first wife was a folk dancer in the State Folk Ensemble. She told me about one time in Slovakia, in one of the smaller cities, where there was a banner waiting for them that read: “Together we struggle for peace.” Getting back to China…We went there by train. It might have taken us three weeks; we almost went crazy. The Russians were also on high alert. On the train, they confiscated the postcards with maps on them that we had bought, claiming it was espionage. They brought us back quicker, though. By then ’56 was underway. My friends say that either I would have been shot dead or would have defected.

As an activist and somebody who generally cares about truth, how did you live without any repercussions?

Well, I don’t know. Apparently, once when I was not here, one of my co-workers said that I should be demoted. She was a massive bolshevik; me—not so much. We always chatted with each other, shared our differing views, but it never went so far that I should be reported.

And what kind of news broadcasts did you make, specifically?

Rural news. Pig-feeding in Kisvárad, and the like. The television news was organized so that first came politics, then heavy industry, agriculture, culture, and that’s it. These were the different sections. I was in the rural news section. First, they would give an idea for a piece to me, as well as to a director and production manager. Of course, there were also cameramen, but we usually didn’t record sound. We would go to the site—either a farmers’ co-op or state-run farm. But first, we would have to find the head of the village council and the head of the co-op. The first step was to speak with them. One Pentecost we had to make a similar kind of film. We went to the village right as they were having the parade. We asked someone where we could find the head of the council and the head of the co-op. They said, “There they are, they’re bringing the baldachin!”

How did you get to the village? Was there also a car, or did you take the bus?

There were three or four old Skodas that belonged to the film studio. The Russians took away all of the cars, but the studio somehow managed to save these ones. There were always tires packed onto the roofs, because every 50 km or so a tire would blow out and we would have to change it.

So you did reconnaissance.

Yes. We would go down and arrange to go back two or three days later. The head of the farmers’ co-op would then nominate the farmer who deserved to be the one to feed the pig on the television news. Then we would head home and write a screenplay that a committee would have to approve. And then we would go and make the news piece. There was the farmer all dressed up in his Sunday’s best, because of course he couldn’t have fed the pigs just in his work clothes. If he had received some sort of award of merit, that also had to be on display. After the filming, we would go home and, once the committee accepted the final product, it could be broadcast on the television news. We did one or two of these each week.

The Red and the White

The Red and the White

After being involved in the news, when and how did your first feature film The Bells Have Gone to Rome (A harangok Rómába mentek) come about?

In 1958. But it’s horrible.

Why? You don’t like it?

I already knew that it was horrible when I made it. I was finally able to shoot a film, because after ’56 the heads of the film studio were progressive Communists who, in the name of change, said that we should make feature films as well. Not long ago, someone brought it out so that I could see it, and I couldn’t even watch it all the way through; it’s so bad. I don’t usually watch my films, because I can see where I messed up. My colleagues in the theatre are so much luckier in that they can do the same piece more than once, modifying the live piece from performance to performance. But films are like canned goods.

But isn’t it good that these canned goods exist?

Well, I don’t know. I watch other people’s films. Many years ago, there was a screening of my films in England. They had found a completely untouched copy of The Round-Up. And so I started to watch it, because I was curious about its quality.

Speaking of The Round-Up… You broke some really serious taboos with this film for that time-period. It is a very frank depiction of the relationship between the individual and the establishment, and it amazes us that they allowed it. How were you able to achieve such artistic-creative freedom? 

I don’t know. I also wonder about this. When I first met my friend [Gyula] Hernádi, there was this new generation of young writers emerging; Gyula brought me into this circle. Today, many of us wouldn’t be able to sit at the same table together. Back then, there was one goal, which at its heart was critique—we should look at our society with critical eyes and report what we see. Why and how did they put up with this? I knew György Aczél pretty well. If someone watches The Round-Up, they will understand that it is a kind of generalization that is connected to ’56. Aczél was no idiot, and yet he allowed it. Why? He didn’t say. And since he never wrote his memoirs, he has taken this answer with him to the grave.

Do the soldiers in The Round-Up reflect your experiences as a Russian prisoner of war?

Maybe. And everything else. At that time the feature film studio consisted of creative teams. There was a leader, as well as screenwriters and directors. Originally, I ended up with [István] Nemeskürty, who was more or less a popularizing historian. As a Hungarian, he wanted to promote Hungarian history, because under Rákosi there just wasn’t a lot of that. He said that instead of [Mór] Jókai’s novels we should make a real historical film. There are three stories in The RoundUp: a story from [Zsigmond] Móricz, a true story about outlaws (written by a novelist from Szeged), and a story about how they suspected a gendarme of being a mole—that’s the real story of a Russian general.

Is it really true what they write about your films, that they portray your thoughts?

Actually, we never really formulated for ourselves, what we should say. That was always the problem, that we would finish the film and already need to make a new one. That’s why Hernádi took a firm position of no compromise. Both money and the establishment affect a film. I used to talk with my ex-wife Márta Mészáros about how lucky we were that we started working right at the time when Kádár was trying to liberalize things a little, if one can say this about such a regime. When someone writes something, they are writing about themselves. Even the census taker… Actually what comes out doesn’t really interest me, but at the same time you have to take it seriously. Public opinion matters quite a bit. It is not a coincidence that Americans spend as much trying to make a film popular as they do making the film itself. Under the circumstances of that time it was lucky that my first films were in international circulation. I have met with a number of colleagues, but I am not in the same league as Bergman, or Antonioni, who I consider to be my master.

Do you have any films in the works?

Yes.

Is there a good chance that there will be funding for it?

This is a ridiculous industry that requires a lot of money. For decades I’ve been making films in a way that when the money comes together, I mull it over. I really don’t think it all the way through. I just know more or less what I want to do.

We know that it is a lot, but how much has technology changed?

So much. In college we used to cut actual film. I already spoke about the kinds of cameras and sound gear we were working with. Today’s editors use computers. It’s a big change.

If I remember correctly, you have run for office twice since the end of the Communist regime.

Run? They made me. They asked me to. I gave my name.

Why did you say yes? Did you really believe that you could change something here?

I have thought that so many times. In these past few decades, there were times when I believed it might be possible to change things in the world. I don’t really like [Sándor] Márai, because I don’t like gentrification; but, what he wrote in his diary is important. You can’t seriously think that someone can change the world.

But that’s what being an activist is all about—believing that change is possible, that things should be better…

Of course. Because you have to. You can’t live just giving into the fact that everything is shit and people can walk all over you. But at the same time I know that with every change came people who did exactly the same as those who had come before them. At the time of the ’49 election, I was convinced that the Communists were an upstanding society. Later, as everything unfolded—and it’s the same now unfortunately—you realize that something is not right, no matter what they promise. But, well, it’s always been like this.

In the past few decades, has it occurred to you that you are a lawyer? Maybe when you heard or read about lawsuits or trials?

The lawyer in me has never stirred. With the Kádár trials, so many things came to mind, for example who were these people who had done these things. Once, I was called to the countryside. This young lawyer drove me there. It was at the time of the first Fidesz government. He talked about how one of his judge acquaintances had acquitted a fidesz defendant. The lawyer had asked him why. Had they swayed him? Had they given him money? He replied that they had done neither. He just wanted to live in peace.

What kinds of books have you been reading lately?

So many different kinds.

What kind of film would you make, if someone gave you an unlimited amount of money?

Well, that’s never happened to anyone. In today’s society, though, one can find plenty of topics.

Do you think that coincidence is an important part of life?

Of course.

And is there such a thing as a coincidence?

Well, I don’t know what coincidence is. Some time in the 40s I went out to the corner of Baross street. Two lackeys were unloading iron from a truck. One of the pieces of iron struck me just below my right eye, not even a centimeter below. An accident? A year either before or after, there was an avant-garde artitsts’ club on Üllői street in the building right across from the Vörösmarty cinema. I looked at my watch. It was 2:10 when I walked through the entrance and closed the gate behind me. At that moment, the balcony…

Collapsed. And what do you think will become of this world?

I don’t know. But it’s also a good question to ask, what will happen with this country?

Jancso_milos_01

via Wikipedia

* Interview translated from the Hungarian by Fiona Stewart.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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This week saw the announcement of the short list of films that are in contention for the nomination for`Best Foreign Language Film award in the upcoming Academy Awards. Amongst the 9 films listed was locally made The Notebook (A nagy füzet) directed by János Szász, a Hungarian director best known for his film Opium: Diary or a Madwoman, and his contribution to the Holocaust documentary Eyes of the Holocaust.  The film has already had quite a year, winning this year’s main prize – The Crystal Globe – at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

A record 76 films were in contention to make the short list for the 86th annual Academy Awards. The next round will cut the nine films down to five, the names of which will be announced with the rest of the Academy Award nominees on January 16th. Other films on the short list are:

Belgium, The Broken Circle Breakdown, Felix van Groeningen
Bosnia and Herzegovina, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Danis Tanovic
Cambodia, The Missing Picture, Rithy Panh
Denmark, The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg
Germany, Two Lives, Georg Maas
Hong Kong, The Grandmaster, Wong Kar-wai
Italy, The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino
Palestine, Omar, Hany Abu-Assad

As reported earlier this year on this blog: The Notebook is an adaptation of writer Agota Kristof’s novel The Notebook (though the book was written in French, the writer is of Hungarian extraction). The story follows two boys who are taken in by their seemingly monstrous grandmother, who is able to keep them fed under the deprivations of World War II. The boys disassociate themselves from their emotional lives in order to survive their ordeal, keeping factual accounts of the lessons they learn in a notebook.  The Hollywood Reporter called the film “beautifully conceived,” citing the Hungarian countryside as particularly well rendered in the film.

Best of luck to János Szász and The Notebook.

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PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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