10 Post-Socialist Hungarian Films You Must See

 

After the collapse of socialism in Hungary in 1989, some extremely strange movies were made that seemed to anticipate the future. None of the films produced around this time seemed to be about liberation and hope. They mirrored the dirty, run-down, dodgy Hungarian reality that has entrenched itself even after joining the European Union. They all share the message of, “Be careful, guys. Nothing will be good here by itself. It will only happen if you sort yourselves out.” Well, we haven’t.

Evidently, with Viktor Orbán now in charge of the country, we just didn’t watch enough Hungarian movies. We must have just wasted the 90’s away watching things like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s The Quest to an incredible mind-numbing effect. However, all is not lost just yet. We can still find many of these underrated classics and understand that many film directors realized the collapse of the Soviet occupation did not promise certain freedom but an uncertain future. Maybe through them, we can understand where we lost the plot. I encourage you to go out and find these film. Note: This is not a definitive ranking. The list is purely composed in order of release dates.

 

 

My 20th Century (1989)

This must be one of the most important feminist movies hailing from the entire region. A stunningly ironic, bright tale of the 20th century in which a man is seeking completeness and perfection in a self-destructive way.

The film is set in a chaotic confusion of polarity, false appearances, and scientific truths, it deals with so-called ‘double individuals’, since the main characters are twins whose identities get lost in a metaphorical mirrored, labyrinth scene.

Roncsfilm (1992)

This cult satire takes place in 1989 in Budapest’s most marginalized neighbourhood, District 8. The legendary Gólya Pub, which still exists, is always full of lovely deadbeats, cheaters and alcoholics, who are causing trouble, boozing, playing cards, beating each other up a bit, and generally doing things that make little sense on the face of it.

This is a sociographic portrait of loveable low-life characters. The title means Junk Movie because the script has been damaged; the storyline is often interrupted by crappy TV commercials, sound effects, and visuals, which makes it lose its initial, or intended, meaning.

The Outpost (1995)

A talented female engineer is sent to an isolated outpost in Russia, where only the best engineers are invited. From the very beginning, an inauspicious feeling anticipates that something really tragic is about to happen. She has a travel buddy assigned to her, officially to make sure she is on the right track, but she quickly learns that the entire trip is not about promotion, but rather the opposite. This trip to Siberia actually serves to put her in a detention labour camp, isolated from society as she has too much expertise, making her, in the eyes of the law, potentially dangerous. A fantastic thriller. 

Werkmeister Harmonies (2000)

A cult movie from a cult movie director, Béla Tarr, who has often been referred to as the Tarkovsky of his generation. The Werkmeister Harmonies consists of 39 languidly-paced shots and takes place during the Soviet occupation of Hungary at the end of the Second World War. Unexpectedly, a travelling circus arrives in a quiet, grey town where the standard of living slowly but steadily is deteriorating.

The two biggest attractions of the circus are a prince and a giant whale. Some strangers arrive in the town, who are subsequently encouraged by the prince and some locals to destroy the place. In a short period of time all hell breaks loose, and the situation can no longer be controlled by common sense.

Everyone suffers in Tarrs movies, and everyone is a victim of a never-ending story told in dark, desperate, sinister monochrome, in which salvation or death never comes – just never-ending suffering.

Hukkle (2002)

A speechless noise-symphony of a village where the rhythm is measured by the regular and constant hiccups of an old villager. Hukkle is an experimental movie dedicated to the famous movie making teacher, Sándor Simó. There are absolutely no dialogues or actors in the entire movie, but beyond painting an idyllic village scene, the film also tells a a crime story where all details are exposed in a sophisticated way.

This film is highly recommended to be watched several times, as for the first time many sequences and pictures don’t seem to connect. However, they will gain cohesion and correlation as ultimately each and every element belongs to a greater meaning. Every detail grows into something much bigger and more complex, until it starts scratching the surface of deep problems, such as the situation of women and feminism. At the end of the movie, a folk song performed during a wedding exposes the entire crime story, providing a pure mise en abyme.

 

Kontroll (2003)

The post-renovation metro system of Budapest had a unique atmosphere: dirty, old-school, loveable, and mysterious. Kontroll is entirely shot in the underground system of the city and tells the story of metro ticket inspectors, when repetitive, weird suicides overshadow their miserable daily activities.

The main character gives up his career and literally slips underground, to become a shameful ticket inspector, where he is looked down on, mistreated and beaten up by both passengers and his colleagues. He sinks so deep that he starts living in the underground system, never to return home. A surrealistic psycho-schizo story with its fair share of grotesqueness and irony.

Dealer (2004)

This is not a story of your usual gangster hip-hopper-slash-drug dealer, but rather the Eastern European version of it.

The main character in Dealer is an ex-addict who cycles around town visiting his customers. He is a proper anti-hero who has absolutely no feelings and no connection to his surroundings. The movie follows him during one of his regular days full of misery, apocalyptic scenes, and surreal craziness. And guess what: somehow he starts feeling again. Amazing camera work with beautiful compositions short with long takes.

Liza, the Fox Fairy (2015)

Black comedy in a very unique style, Liza, the Fox Fairy mixes Japanese 50s pop (Tony Tani), Finnish Western music, and the myth of Kitsune. Liza seems to be cursed as a fox fairy, leading men to drop dead around her.

The film manages to create a very special atmosphere in Budapest in an imaginary, historical time: around the 50s or 60s, but in a market economy-driven society. While our fox fairy is madly in love with everything that is Japanese, the main male character is crazily into Finland, and these two styles mix with Hungary throughout the entire film.

Teaser from the music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gupmu_dfPs

Son of Saul (2015)

Claude Lanzmann, the French movie maker, stated that it is not possible to capture the holocaust because everything that happened there is irrepresentable and inconceivable. He might be right, however, if any movie is able to expose true hell in its deeper extents, Son of Saul is the one.

This movie is stressful, terrifying, and emotionally and mentally very exhausting. The opening scene is about contrasting screams, commands, yelling, noises, fire: basically the constant movement of acts of horror, while the camera never rests. The protagonist himself is also a labour camp prisoner, but due to his activities in the Sonderkommando, he has a privileged position within the camp. Sonderkommandos are work units made up of German Nazi death camp prisoners, usually Jews, who were forced to facilitate the disposal of gas chamber victims during the Holocaust. He decides to bury the body of a young boy and is unrelenting in achieving his goal.

Georges Didi-Huberman also praised the film and even wrote a 25-page open letter to the director, which opened with “Your film, ‘Son of Saul,’ is a monster. A necessary, coherent, beneficial, innocent monster.”

The Citizen (2016)

The Citizen is a very accurate and realistic representation of the life of a refugee in today’s Hungary, something which has been a hot topic lately due to the refugee crisis and the xenophobia of the Hungarian government.

The film tells the story of a Nigerian man who as been living in Budapest for years. He is fluent in Hungarian, and he really wants to settle down and obtain Hungarian citizenship. This is a challenge however: he faces racism and discrimination everyday, and it looks like there is no way out of it. He fails his citizenship exam over and over again, and therefore decides to start private lessons on Hungarian history and civilization. Yes, he falls in love with his teacher, and additionally, he is hiding an undocumented Iranian woman with a baby. The situation becomes unbearable and he needs to choose between his love and his common fate with the Iranian woman.