Archive for the 'Sándor Sára' Category

Ten Thousand Suns

Tízezer nap
Hungary, 1965/67, black and white, 110 mins

  • Director: Ferenc Kósa
  • Screenplay: Ferenc Kósa, Sándor Csoóri, Imre Gyöngyössy
  • Photography: Sándor Sára
  • Production Design: József Romvári
  • Sound: György Pintér
  • Editing: Ferencné Szécsényi
  • Music: András Szöllősy
  • Production Manager: József Bajusz
  • Cast: Tibor Molnár (István Széles), Gyöngyi Bürös (Juli), András Kozák (István Széles junior), János Koltai (Bánó Fülöp), Ida Siménfalvy (Széles’ mother), János Rajz (Balogh), János Siménfalvy (Uncle Sándor), Anna Nagy (Mihály’s wife), Nóra Káldi (policeman’s wife), Kornélia Sallai (Bánó’s wife), László Ferencz (gypsy), István Szilágyi (referee), Péter Haumann (policeman), László Nyers (Mihály Csere), István Széles, Mihály Papp
  • Production Company: MAFILM


One of the most impressive Hungarian directorial debuts, Ten Thousand Suns offers clinching proof that Miklós Jancsó wasn’t the only mid-1960s master offering breathtaking widescreen compositions featuring hundreds of men and horses. Shot by Sándor Sára, then well on his way to cementing his reputation as one of Hungarian cinematography’s greatest visual artists, the film routinely throws up stunning shots: mass wheat scything, dozens of horses crossing a bridge to market (followed shortly afterwards by train wagons crossing the same bridge heading in the opposite direction, a neat visual gag on technological progress), prisoners doing hard labour on a rocky hillside, numerous public festivities crammed with local colour. The aesthetic impact alone makes it’s easy to see why this once had a considerable international reputation, even achieving a commercial release in Britain.

Another reason for its acclaim outside Hungary may be that while it tackles similar material to Zoltán Fábri’s Twenty Hours (Húsz óra, 1965), it does so in the much more immediately accessible form of a three-decade family saga (the period alluded to by the title adds up to just over 27 years) which spans the pre-war era through to the János Kádár’s so-called ‘goulash communism’ of the 1960s. We watch the former peasants István Széles (Tibor Molnár), his wife Juli (a wonderfully expressive Gyöngyi Bürös, her silences as eloquent her sparse dialogue) and their friend Bánó Fülöp (János Koltai) negotiating all the pitfalls that history strews in their path, not always with complete success. Though long-term friends, István and Bánó are politically poles apart: Bánó is the local Communist activist, organising a trade union and enthusiastically implementing agricultural reform on the local collective farm. By contrast, István consciously shuns identification with a particular line, and while this makes him a much more clear-sighted observer of communism’s drawbacks, it’s not without considerable hardship along the way, including a long spell in prison - though he also refuses to side with the rebels of 1956, since they also stand in the way of his landowning ambitions. (More specifically, he refuses to shoot Bánó, despite the latter now being firmly established as his ideological ‘enemy’).

Kósa parallels this central narrative with a vivid portrait of the lot of workers over this period. Before the war, István, Juli, Bánó and their peasant cohorts live in extreme poverty, effectively slaves to the local landowners and all their actions are shown to have moral consequences above and beyond their notional illegality - for instance, stealing straw from the pigs to use as fuel on New Year’s Eve means that the piglets will be found frozen to death the following morning (in one of many quirky touches that separate this film from one of Jancsó’s more earnest parables, the miscreants are ordered to apologise to the surviving pigs). The potato is the staple diet, and not just as food - Bánó manages to get one to power a radio. A strike leads to a confrontation between those seeking higher wages and those who point out that they’ll starve without work, though the latter end up ritually humiliated by being tied to upended wheelbarrows and having dirt thrown in their faces.

Following the war, whose passage and outcome is efficiently conveyed by newsreels and shots of black-shrouded women in mourning laying candles on tombstones, a new government decrees that the land belongs to those who need it. This leads to scenes that echo one of the flashbacks in Twenty Hours, as over-excited peasants pre-emptively raid a grain store, a politician pleading with them to stop and wait as the grain will soon be theirs anyway. A massed celebration includes a speed-eating contest reminiscent of the ones in György Pálfi’s grotesque Taxidermia (2006) as well as mass wrestling, a twilight dance around a bonfire, and a merry-go-round (an iconic shot for Hungarian cinema ever since Zoltán Fábri made one the centrepiece of his breakthrough film Merry-Go-Round/Körhinta in 1955).

But the euphoria quickly gives way to disgruntlement: Bánó asserts that the more one gives, the happier one is, but when he seeks to put this notion into practice by requisitioning some of István’s grain for the benefit of poorer community members, István is unimpressed by the argument that it properly belongs to the people and resolves to steal it back, an action that leads to the death of his man-mountain accomplice Mihály (previously seen as a champion speed-eater and wrestler) and hard labour for István himself. When he returns, he finds his son grown up (and now played by András Kozák, a regular lead in Jancsó’s films) and evidence of the encroachment of progress - Juli tells him that the women wear nylon now, and the peasant houses are now dwarfed by much more modern buildings. This sequence of the film delights in juxtaposing the ancient and the modern: a lovely lyrical sequence sees a session of ploughing accompanied by the slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a forest is mysteriously populated with riderless bicycles, and a trip to the beach reveals a bizarre juxtaposition of costume styles from modern bathing costumes to traditional Hungarian male headgear.

The film’s final sequences reveal Kósa’s ultimate thesis, as father and son are explicitly contrasted despite sharing the same name. István senior is a traditionalist, raised as part of a hierarchy, and consequently his notion of ambition is to rise up to the top - or at least to a level where he can ensure a life of comfort and plenty. He’s paralleled with King Lear, whose decision to give up his land resulted in his decline and death. But István junior is a child of the postwar era, raised in a very different environment where the physical and social needs of the community come before individual desires - and therefore, Kósa implies, a model citizen of a new socialist Hungary where theory and practice can finally become one.


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Posted on 20th August 2009
Under: Reviews, Festivals, Hungary, Sándor Sára, Ferenc Kósa | 2 Comments »

Current

Sodrásban
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.


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

Gypsies

Cigányok
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.


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

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