Archive for the 'István Gaál' Category


Hungary, 1963, black and white, 90 mins

  • Director: István Gaál
  • Screenplay: István Gaál
  • Dramaturge: Luca Carall
  • Photography: Sándor Sára
  • Production Design: József Romvári
  • Costume Design: Zsuzsa Vicze
  • Editing: István Gaál
  • Sound: Tibor Rajky
  • Music: András Szöllősy, Mária Mezey, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Antonio Vivaldi
  • Production Manager: Lajos F. Kiss
  • Cast: Mariann Moór (Böbe), Andrea Drahota (Zsofi, aka ‘Tomboy’), Istvánné Zsipi (Aunt Anna), Sándor Csikós (Laci), János Harkányi (Gabi), András Kozák (Luja), Tibor Orbán (Zoli), Gyula Szersén (Karesz), Lajos Tóth (Berci), Mária Fogarassy (Mother), Lajos Kormos, Kálmán Csohány, Kálmánné Csohány, József Horváth, Kornélia Sallai, Ferenc Paláncz, András Ambrus, Albert Almási, Rezső Kárpáti, Pál Keresztes, Nándor Pagonyi, Sándor Siménfalvy, Ferenc Vezse
  • Production Company: Hunnia Filmstúdió

Also known as In the Current, this was the debut feature by the 30-year-old István Gaál, and has subsequently been recognised as one of the earliest films of an authentic Hungarian ‘new wave’. Gaál had spent two years (1959-61) studying film at the Centro Sperimentale in Rome, and Current shows the clear influence both of Italian neo-realism and its more modernist offshoots. It’s probably safe to assume that Gaál would have seen Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), to which Current occasionally bears a strong resemblance in its depiction of a group of friends whose lives are permanently altered when one of them mysteriously disappears during a riverside excursion. The crucial difference here is that the various characters are much younger, some not yet out of their teens, and consequently forced to grow up faster than intended.

The film begins in sunny, upbeat fashion, with lithe and energetic young men and women leaving their small village to spend a day frolicking on the sands beside the river and picnicking in the woods. Six of them are old friends, with the seventh, Zoli (Zsofi’s new neighbour) fitting right in almost from the start. They’re a very familiar bunch, right down to the petty squabbles - though the latter will later be replayed and agonised over, as though they offered some kind of clue as to the meaning of what later happened. They even pose for a photograph, largely stripped to their underwear, a couple streaked with warpaint-like mud, an image of carefree innocence (albeit with ‘Lord of the Flies’ overtones) that will also be repeatedly shown in increasingly ironic circumstances. Gabi’s disappearance changes everything, including the film’s pace and tone. Finding his clothes still present on the shoreline, they run along the shoreline calling his name before doing the sensible thing and hand the matter over to the police - but that’s when the recriminations and internal soul-searching begin, which will dominate the rest of the film.

Coming from different backgrounds and with different interests suggesting divergent temperaments (when medical student Zoli is introduced to the rest of the group, we learn that it contains a student, a biologist, a physicist and a sculptor) each has their own individual reaction to Gabi’s disappearance. Zoli struggles to recall his face, Zsofi wonders whether they were truly in love, Laci asks his solipsistic parents what they’d have done if he’d drowned (and is given the less than helpful response “clever boys don’t do such stupid things”) and worries whether Gabi has left anything aside from fading memories, Luja finds solace in his art (he’s training to be a sculptor) and Böbe realises that she feels nothing for Kari, whose love for her is superficial compared with Gabi’s for Zsofi’s (though this is now, of course, an untestable proposition, and implicitly challenged by the memory of her slapping him on the beach).

All recognise that Gabi’s disappearance has changed them in some way, but they can’t articulate precisely what - one attempt at rationalising whether they have a moral responsibility for what happened because they were effectively a community is dismissed with a curt “this isn’t a maths problem”. Böbe claims that Gabi was effectively a ‘father confessor’ to all of them, and he seems to retain this role even in death, his memory triggering numerous revealing reminiscences (notably Zsofi’s monologue about an erotic but strangely chaste encounter with Gabi in an otherwise abandoned boathouse).

Weaving a much more definite path through all these questions and arguments is the figure of Gabi’s grandmother, largely silent (except for the keening song she sings at the funeral), shawled in black and clutching a symbolic loaf of bread and an unlit candle, at one point drifting down the fatal river in a boat as if to get as close as possible to her grandson’s spirit at the moment it left his body, after which she affixes the candle to the bread and lets it drift away. There’s a sense of ancient ritual coming into play here, something that the young people can’t begin to grasp.

Bookending the narrative elements and threading through them is the powerful symbolic device of the fast-flowing river, first seen in the opening credits accompanied by Vivaldi’s stately Concerto Grosso in D minor, as suggesting something largely impervious to the passage of time. Gaál and cinematographer Sándor Sára (swapping the roles they performed on their previous collaboration, the short documentary Gypsies/Cigányok, 1962) contrive some stunning images in which the river looms large. A standout example is a three-plane composition in which Zsofi comforts Luja on the bank in the left foreground, Gabi’s grandmother drifts past in her boat in the middle, with either the sun or the moon (given the use of silhouette, it’s hard to read the time of day) in the background on the right, or the shot of the sextet searching for Gabi alongside the river, filmed from inside the current itself, with the camera occasionally dipping below the surface. Gaál and Sára are just as inventive indoors: Laci’s bedroom, with its decorative rocks, cacti, hourglass and other objects, filmed in close-up so that they momentarily become a series of abstract studies in a way that anticipates the future work of assistant director Zoltán Huszárik (who would collaborate with Sára on the poetic masterpiece Sindbad/Szindbád in 1970).

The film has a very strong sense of place: the opening shots establish the small, close-knit village community, with haymakers and barges frequently glimpsed in the background - the police, too, perform their work unobtrusively and efficiently. The performances throughout ring entirely true, with much of the younger cast being drawn from a local acting school - though one of them, András Kozák, would soon become a familiar face in the work of Miklós Jancsó and other major Hungarian filmmakers of the 1960s.


Posted on 18th August 2009
Under: Reviews, Festivals, Hungary, Zoltán Huszárik, István Gaál, Retrospectives, Sándor Sára | No Comments »


Hungary, 1962, black and white, 17 mins

  • Director: Sándor Sára
  • Screenplay: Sándor Sára
  • Photography: István Gaál
  • Editing: István Gaál
  • Sound: Gyula Novák
  • Producer: András Nemeth
  • Production Company: Béla Balázs Studio

If the IMDB is to be believed, this short documentary made for the renowned Béla Balázs Studio is the directorial debut of Sándor Sára, who went on to forge a distinguished career as both director of his own films and cinematographer of other people’s, notably Ten Thousand Suns (Tízezer nap, d. Ferenc Kósa, 1967), Sindbad (Szindbád, d. Zoltán Huszárik, 1971) and many early István Szabó features (Sára’s cinematographer here is István Gaál, also a future director). This short film is a quasi-anthropological study of a group of gypsies living in a makeshift encampment far away from any significant Hungarian population centre, but at the same time being expected to integrate convincingly into “normal” society.

It begins with a series of stark black-and-white still photographs of gypsies, with an emphasis on small children staring directly at the camera, a motif that continues through the moving-image material. A percussive accompaniment segues into a gypsy folksong about people who disappear out of the blue, and those who are punished by the authorities even when innocent. The camera circles around the gypsy settlement, whose huts have clearly been built by their inhabitants. Mothers take their young children to a medical centre, whose doctors diagnose that they’re suffering from malnutrition, especially lack of milk (a voiceover highlights that many gypsy children are badly stunted both physically and mentally as a result of early nutritional deprivation).

While the kids form themselves into lines to watch cars, boats and trains passing, their elders describe the trials of their lives in voiceover: society is supposed to help the poor, but gypsies barely register. Despite endless applications, they’re passed over for social housing, and a typical monthly income of 700-800 forints barely leaves enough over for food. As one pithily puts it “honesty leaves us when we have no work”, but even when they get work they’re mercilessly exploited. They eventually had to build the settlement themselves, but they’re currently stuck there, as they have no resources to build anything better.

Sára intercuts these with glimpses of authentic folk culture. A funeral sees the corpse in an open coffin surrounded by keening headscarfed women. One tells a proverb about how gypsies used to be birds, flying from place to place in search of food, but when they alighted on a huge surplus, they stayed too long to indulge, and their wings turned into hands. The menfolk work in iron, illustrated by a rapid montage set to a rhythmic, percussive score.

The rest of the film concentrates on the lives of the children, first seen walking three kilometres to school, mostly along a dirt track, with many barefoot. As they attend class, they describe their dream careers in considerable detail: nurse, teacher, ticket collector. When they reach the school, they wash in a small tin tub outside and hang their coats on a pair of rickety beams. A girl recites Vladimir Mayakovsky, a boy Sándor Petőfi - both revolutionary poets, though the film doesn’t emphasise this. A brief sequence of the kids copying a blackboard drawing of a peasant woman bending over a field is echoed in the film’s final shot as a gypsy boy draws a similar picture from memory on the wall of the family home. Though Sára’s film is for the most part bleak and pessimistic, this does at least hint at the possibility that the kids’ education is working outside the confines of the classroom, and they at least might have a faint hope of a better future.


Posted on 18th August 2009
Under: Reviews, Festivals, Hungary, István Gaál, Sándor Sára | No Comments »

István Gaál RIP

I was very sorry to hear about the death of Hungarian director István Gaál (1933-2007), because I’d only just discovered his work via Roots (Gyökerek), a marvellous three-part television documentary about the composer Béla Bartók, made in 2002 - which has just jumped to the top of my “to review” list.

The Falcons (Magasiskola, 1970) is widely regarded as his best film, but I don’t honestly recall ever getting a chance to see it. But hopefully the links below will offer more comprehensive and reliable information than I can muster.


  • Obituary by John Nadler in Variety (2 October 2007)
  • Personal tribute from a former student blogging as The Spaniard in the Works
  • Biography by Václav Merhaut from
  • Online exhibition of Gaál’s photographs, courtesy of the (Origo) Galéria - which also supplies this biography.
  • This entry for The Falcons on is in Hungarian, but has a small colour stills gallery.

Posted on 7th October 2007
Under: Hungary, Obituaries, István Gaál | No Comments »

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