Hungarian Film Week: Some Breaks With Tradition, Plus a Ploy for Foreign Co-Productions
by Anna Franklin
A young American director of Hungarian parentage who returned to the Budapest his parents fled during communism to study filmmaking is making a name for himself as the director of one hottest new Hungarian films in a decade. Nimrod Antal‘s feature debut, “Control,” has won both critical and commercial success for the 31 year old Hungarian-American. Since its release last November it has scored 220,000 admissions locally making it the top Hungarian film at the box office this past year as well as winning numerous prizes including the Gene Moskowitz Prize awarded by foreign critics at this year’s Hungarian Film Week (which ran January 27 – February 3). There are rumors that a Hollywood remake is already in the pipeline.
Antal came to Hungary to study cinematography at the famous Budapest film school which has given the world such famous DPs as Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs. But he quickly changed his field of study to scriptwriting and directing and produced a number of shorts, video clips, and commercials before writing the script for “Control” and teaming up with the young independent producer Tamas Hutlassa. Hutlassa said as soon as he saw the script he knew the film was a winner.
Set entirely underground in the dark labyrinth of Budapest’s subway system, the film is a tightly directed psychological thriller with enough twists and turns in the plot to keep audiences guessing up until the last scene. Ticket inspectors in the Budapest subway are a despised species. Bulcsu, played by the newcomer Sandor Csanyi, is the leader of a group of young misfits employed to do a job no one else wants. Their daily routine is filled with abuse and violence from passengers but a sense of humor and camaraderie makes the job bearable — until a mysterious figure begins pushing people under trains.
Made on a shoestring budget of about $800,000, the film was shot over several weeks, shooting just five hours a day and doing 20 to 25 takes a day because of budget constraints. Full of fast action, chase scenes, and humor the film is everything that Hungarian cinema usually is not.
Hungarian film has suffered from too much art and not enough audience appeal in recent years. The fare at this year’s Hungarian Film Week, an annual event that screens all the new feature films produced in Hungary over the previous year, was another example of this. The top prize went to director Attila Janisch‘s “After the Day Before,” a beautifully shot, poetic, and moving film about the brutal murder of a 15-year-old girl while Benedek Fliegauf won best director for “Dealer,” a stylistically impressive but exceedingly dark film about a day in the life of a drug dealer. Both films will please critics and festival directors but are unlikely to attract much business at the box office.
If the return of second-generation Hungarian emigrants is bringing fresh blood to Hungarian cinema the local industry is also poised for a renaissance on another front. The recently approved Hungarian Film Law (December 2003) is designed to attract international co-productions to Hungary as well as increasing government funding for local filmmakers. Film producers can receive a 20 percent rebate on the total amount of money they spend on film production services in Hungary. In 2003, an estimated $45 million was spent by film production companies in Hungary. The government expects that amount to double. The Hungarian Cultural Minister Istvan Hiller said during the film week that it was already in discussions with five international film production companies that are considering shooting in Hungary since the passage of the new film law. The law is intended to make Hungary more competitive for production services deals than neighboring Prague and Bucharest as well as pumping money into local Hungarian production. Hungary produces about 20 domestic features a year.