Hungarian Masters - Hungarian Masters( Blu Ray Boxset) [Second Run - 2021]
Appearing at the tail end of last year Hungarian Masters is a rather wonderful Blu Ray boxset, bringing together three key/ important films made in Hungary between the 1950s and 1970s. The films featured move from an impactful & thoughtful romantic drama, an arty & troubling coming of age drama, and a theatrical/ arthouse re-enactment of Hungary’s 1919 revolution.
The box appears on Second Run, as a region free set. Each title is presented in its own stand-alone blu ray case, with an around twenty-page inlay booklet for each film, with the whole thing presented in a card slip. Each of the pictures has been given a 4k scan, with a few extras on each disc too.
The first film in the set is Merry-Go-Round (Körhinta)- this was made in the year 1955, and is best described as a thoughtful & beautiful captured rural set romantic drama. It was directed by Zoltán Fábri- between the years 1952 and 1982 he helmed twenty-one feature lengths, and Merry-Go-Round was his third film. His filmography went from the historic drama of Vihar (1952), onto the wartime sports drama of Two Half- Times in Hell (1957) which charted a football match between German soldiers and Ukrainian prisoners during WWII. There was tragic-comic Late Season (1967) charting the Israeli trial of infamous nazi Adolph Eichmann, and communist drama Requiem (1982).
Merry-Go-Round is set in a small farming town in the Hungarian countryside of the mid-1950s. It focuses on just turned eighteen Mari (Mari Töröcsik), who’s the daughter of awkward and authoritarian father István (Béla Barsi)- who has recently left the local farming cooperative. The film opens when the annual fair comes to town- and Mari, and bushy eyebrowed Bíró (Imre Soós) are forming an early romance- after he’s made her a love frame, and the pair spend joyful times on various fairground rides- including a chain Merry Go Round. István captures the eye of the pair, pulling his daughter away and foreboding the relationship. Next into the story comes Farkas (Ádám Szirtes) a rather sleazy and forceful man, some years older than Mari- he chats with István wanting to marry his daughter- even though she can’t stand his touch- though he presses the relationship, due to Farkas having both land, horses and money- which he’s keen to get his hands on. As the film unfolds it charts the developing passions between forbidden lovers Mari and Bíró, and Mari’s father trying to stop it.
The film moves between moments of dizzying passion, tense drama, and the general glum hardships of mud bound rural life. Töröcsik is spellbinding as wants more from her life eighteen-year-old Mari- moving believably between joyful wonder, shy sadness, and hard-working acceptance. Soós is good as the brooding & passionate Bíró- focused on getting his woman, whatever the cost. Both Barsi as her father and Szirtes as forced on suiter are good in their roles, also worth a mention is Manyi Kiss as Mari worn down & tired mother. Aside from some of the overly dramatic orchestral scoring & evident stage make-up on some of the actors, Merry-Go-Round feels very ahead of its time- with its moments of wonderfully spinning later sweaty camera work- it’s a largely believable and involving romance, with moments of tense drama.
On the extras side for this disc, we have an eleven-minute on-screen subtitled interview with Hungarian filmmaker István Szabó- he talks about Merry-Go-Round and it's key scenes, moving onto discuss the influence/ legacy of director Zoltán Fábri. There’s nineteen minutes worth of screen tests, and a nine-minute subtitled featurette looking at the restoration of the film.
Next, we have Current (aka Sodrásban) which is a thoughtful at times arty drama from 1964. It focuses on a group of late teens going for a swim and play in the local river- and one of them disappears. The film was directed and written by Salgótarján, Hungary born István Gaál- who had twenty-eight credits to his name, taking in eight feature lengths, and twenty shorts, docs, and TV films. Sodrásban was his first feature, and it’s an impressive debut blending well scripted and well-acted drama, memorable use of moody landscape shots, and generally great use of camera.
The film is set-in small-town Hungary, and its surrounding countryside/ river. After the flowing and shifting river water credits, we get set down on a burning hot day in the town centre- as six young men and two women meet to make their way to the riverbanks just out of the town. At first, the pace & tone of the film is bright, breezy at times manic- as the group meet, chatter, and play in & around the river- this is enhanced by the use of buoyant and vibrant jazz. At one point it’s decided the group should dive down deep into the river and scoop up mud bringing it to the surface- this again is done in a manic/ busy manner. After this, the group starts dancing and prancing near the river pretending to be American Indians, at a point they decide to stop for a picture- finding that one of their number Gabi(János Harkányi) is missing. From here the tone sudden shifts going from desperate, then gloomily thoughtful- as each of the group come to terms with the loss of their friend, and how he impacted their lives.
Each of the six lead young actors are well picked and placed in their roles, but we also get a good surrounding & believable cast taking in flippant professional parents, a more thoughtful artist father, and most memorable the largely silent black scarf-wearing grandmother of Gabi- the only surviving relative of the missing teen.
The visual use of the river and its surrounding area are inspired- enhancing and pulling you into the shifting tone of the film, we go from the exuberant play, lulling lounging, and making sand art opening. Onto the desperate rushing and search through the woods near the river, and the river itself. Though to later on the more brooding and moody use of tall shadowy tree lines, the stark nighttime river/ river banks. As a film Current tattles youth & the often seemingly light-ness of friendship in this time, growing up and loss- it’s both a thought-provoking and lightly arty film, and it’s easy to see why it’s so well thought of within the Hungarian film world.
On the extras side, we have a sixteen and half minute appreciation of Current by producer/curator Gareth Evans, and this is most worthy. He starts off by talking about the dual meanings of the film's title, and how undated the film and its themes are. Moving on to discuss how the film talks about where we sit in the world, the use of Landscape in this & other Hungarian films. He talks about the film's influence on later directors, pointing out the film is both a mood piece and a character study, and other comparable films. We have a seventeen-minute short from 1962 Tisza - Autumn Sketches- this was also directed by István Gaál’s, and is a moody observation of autumn along the river Tisza- with melancholic flute and orchestration score on top.
The final film in the set Agnus Dei(Égi bárány) from 1970, and is the most arthouse film of the set. It’s a shifting and literally circling outdoor re-enactment of Hungary’s 1919 revolution. It was directed by Vac, Hungary born Miklós Jancsó- who was highly prolific notching up eighty credits between the years 1950 and 2021. His output took in both documentaries, shorts, and thirty feature-length films- these went from WWII drama My Way Home( 1965), a musical drama about the 1960s debating communism in college The Confrontation(1969), impressionistic dance like drama Electra My Love(1974), erotic tinged historic drama set in the 1400s The Tyrant's Heart(1981), and political comedy Kék Duna keringö( 1992).
The film is largely set on a bright sunshiny day in the Hungarian countryside. After its credits, we see a skinny naked woman washing a horse in the river, after she is back on land and dressed the film unfolds in a very theatrical and arty manner- as characters create a circling like dance of a story. This features priests, soldiers, children, and men & women. At points the circling flow breaks- for either a sly musical moment detailing revolutionary or rural song, dramatic interactions with a fair few priests dying than rising, and fairly gruelling description of torture and treatment of people during Hungary’s 1919 revolution.
The film is certainly wonderfully choreographed & artily captured, with the shifts in the story being made by smoking flares or similar. Personally, I found it too theatrical in its structure/ feel, and as a result, this didn't pull me into the film's story- added to this the arty dramatic edge to proceedings put me off even more. So as a result I found this just over one hour and twenty minutes film a slog to get through- yes there were memorable/ impactful moments like the scene where torture is described to a child, and the lines of grim burning wood pyres appearing towards the end of the film. But ultimately this wasn't enough to fully pull me in/ satisfy me as a flowing/ enjoyable film- I’d say if you have an interest in Hungarian history and don’t mind arty theatricality, you’ll get a lot more from Agnus Dei.
On this disc extras wise we have nearing nine-and-a-half-minute on-screen interview with director Miklós Jancsó from 1987, this runs nine minutes mark, and finds the cigar-puffing director giving a general interview.
In conclusion, Hungarian Masters is a stellar boxset celebrating these three key films in the country’s cinematic history- with great new 4K scans for each film, as well interesting/ worthy extras & inlay booklets. Yes, the third and final film was not my thing, but I certainly respected and understand what the director was trying to do, and the first two films are simply put spell-biding & effecting slices of world cinema. If you’d like to support the folks at Second Run directly, please drop by here to pick up a copy of this wonderful box set.Roger Batty