ARTMargins Online Blog

Back to the Future: Recent Trends in the Cinemas of Hungary and Romania

While the fight over the ICR can be perceived as an episode in the power struggle between Prime Minister Ponta and Romania's President Traian Basescu, the victims of these changes will quite possibly be the Romanian artists who rely on ICR support for their work. As the Romanian directors Cristian Mungiu and Cristi Puiu have stated, the ICR was instrumental in showcasing the most progressive works of Romanian cinema abroad and launching what has popularly come to be known as the "Romanian New Wave". While Mungiu and Puiu have accrued enough film festival success to be able to find funding for their projects from sources other than government institutions, the changes imposed on the ICR might make it difficult for other filmmakers to have access to the same kind of support the two directors received, especially if future projects are though to be negatively portraying the Romanian national identity. 

During the "Making Waves" festival, a discussion of Creative Freedoms suggested that a similar situation was transpiring in Hungary. A new strategy for the development and preservation of Hungarian film, unveiled in 2011 has asserted new governmental controls over film financing in that country. Moreover, on January 15, 2011, the Hungarian government named Andrew Vajna, the Hungarian-born, heavy-weight Hollywood producer as a government commissioner who was charged with overhauling the country's existing system of film financing and production. The overhaul was intended to lure more foreign productions to Hungary and it seems to have at least partly succeeded, considering that the latest installment of the Die Hard franchise was filmed in Hungary in 2012. But these developments have also raised concerns among filmmakers. Bela Tar, the leading Hungarian auteur filmmaker, and others have voiced concern that the new strategy would lead to a lack of variety among Hungarian films. According to Kent Jones, the Director of Programming for the New York Film Festival, who participated in the Creative Freedoms discussion, Andrew Vajna has begun to assert considerable control over film production in Hungary. Apperently Vajda has demanded that he should have final cut on all films made with the help of the Hungarian government.

The increasing attempts to place film production funding under firmer state control in Hungary and Romania are worrying because of the possibility that these moves could limit the future production of socially concerned films. The most recent examples of this type of filmmaking, Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills (După dealuri, 2012), from Romania and Benedek Fliegauf's Just the Wind (Csak a szél, 2012) from Hungary have examined poignant social issues to wide acclaim. Beyond the Hills was inspired by a case of attempted exorcism in Romania. In June 2005, a twenty-three year-old woman passed away as four nuns and a priest performed exorcism rites over her. While not a straightforward chronicle of this event, Mungiu's film presents the narrative of two young women, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Anna (Cristina Flutur), who grew up together in an orphanage. They reunite at a countryside monastery where Voichita has become a nun, In the beginning of the film, Alina comes to take her childhood friend away, so that they can live and work together outside Romania. When Voichita declines to leave, Alina stays but progressively grows more erratic and violent, leading the priest and nuns at the monastery to first take her to the hospital, and when that proves fruitless, to take maters into their own hands. The film, according to Mungiu, is an indictment of Romanian institutions, including the Orthodox Church, the country's healthcare services, and the government, which have failed to aid and provide services for the country's young people.


Just the Wind, on the other hand, confronts racism against the Roma community in Hungary. As the opening titles state, Fliegauf's fictionalized film deals with a series of violent acts against the Roma in which sixteen homes were attacked with Molotov cocktails, five people were murdered, and six were badly injured. The film centers on Mari (Katalin Toldi), a single mother working two jobs, her son Rio (Lajos Sárkány) and her daughter Anna (Gyöngyi Lendvai). Along with their sick grandfather (György Toldi), the three reside in a provincial town steeped in an atmosphere of fear and paranoia after the wholesale execution of five gypsy families. The constant tight proximity of the camera in relation to the characters compellingly communicates their experience of fear and unease. A heartless conversation between two policemen reveals that the murders were intended to send a message to the local Roma. The film's tragic climax leads to somber resolution in which the corpses of Mari, Anna, and the grandfather are prepared for burial. The camera traces over the corpses and reveals the violence the deceased characters have suffered.

Csak a_szl 

Even though it was partly financed by the Hungarian government, Fliegauf's film reportedly failed to be widely advertised or distributed in Hungary because it was taken to be critical of the authorities. During the Creative Freedoms discussion panel at the "Making Waves" festival, the film director Mona Nicoarä labeled this sort of attitude in connection to the centralizing trends in Hungarian film financing as a new version of "gleichschaltung", referring to the Nazi process of establishing a system of totalitarian control over all aspects of society and cultural production. Even though such bombastic charges threaten to divert attention from the loss of opportunities for filmmakers in Hungary and Romania, they reveal a seemingly valid fear about the loss of socially critical films in favor of money-grossing entertainment and diversion. In the words of Cristian Mungiu, films like Beyond the Hills and Just the Wind consciouslly attempt to offer an alternative to this kind of schmaltz, with the goal of creating opportunities for people to reflect on their values and those of society.


Zdenko Mandušić
Author: Zdenko MandušićCountry: US
Zdenko Mandušić is pursuing a joint Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures and Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. His areas of study are Russian/Soviet and Yugoslav cinema, film theory, and Russian and Southeast European Literature. He plans to write a dissertation based around the question of how the desire for innovation has inspired technological developments.

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