Postcommunist Blues To The Present

The end of Communist rule from 1989 onward also meant the end of government subsidy and control of the film industry. Directors could no longer rely on adequate financial support, entailing no pressure to be commercially successful as long as their work had artistic merit. Moreover, their "oppositional" subject matter, whether direct or oblique, no longer had much relevance in a newly democratic system. The move toward privatization of the film industry was confusing and erratic, complicated by a flood of Hollywood movies that dominated the newly constructed multiplexes, as well as by the challenge of video and television. Co-productions in one form or another became almost mandatory, with a consequent dilution of one of the main strengths of the country's cinema, its strongly nationalistic character.

The immediate result was a drastic drop in the number of feature films produced annually, rarely numbering more than fifteen to twenty, though there was a corresponding increase in documentaries and short films, which could be shot cheaply on 16mm or video. Many of the older generation of directors proved unable or unwilling to adapt to these new circumstances and fell silent. Younger directors tried to compete with Hollywood by choosing overtly commercial subjects filled with crime, violence, explicit sex, and car chases but lacked the technical resources and expertise to carry these through successfully. Yet a tradition of quality filmmaking has continued, helped to some extent by a recent levy on television profits aimed at supporting the film industry, and by the creation in 1991 of the Motion Picture Foundation of Hungary, which provides competitive and partial subsidies to projects considered to have artistic merit.

Some degree of international success in this period was achieved by such films as Az en XX. szazadom (My Twentieth Century, Ildiko Enyedi, 1989), Gyerekgyilkossagok (Child Murders, Ildiko Szabo, 1993), Woyzeck (Janos Szasz, 1994), Szenvedely (Passion, Gyorgy Feh6r, 1998), Bolse Vita (Ibolya Fekete, 1996), and Csinibaba (Dollybirds, Peater Timaar, 1997), but the overall bleak and pessimistic tone of many of these films gives them little popular appeal. Istvan Szabo's Canadian co-production Sunshine (A Napfeny ize, 1999), an English-language film, won and was nominated for several European and American

film awards, and Miklos Jancso attained unprecedented popularity at the age of eighty with a series of anarchic comedies. The most influential of contemporary directors, however, is Bela Tarr, whose films Satantango (Satan's Tango, 1994) and Werckmeister harmoniak (Werckmeister Harmonies, co-directed by Agnes Hranitzky, 2000) have attained cult status abroad. Their often inordinate length, however (Satantango is almost seven hours long), their bleak and melancholy atmosphere, and the slow pace filled with lengthy camera movements have generally restricted their appeal to film festivals and showings at cinematheques and film museums. They prove, however, that the tradition of challenging and subversive Hungarian cinema is not yet dead.

see also National Cinema further reading

Burns, Bryan. World Cinema: Hungary. Trowbridge, UK: Flicks Books, and Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Press, 1996.

Cunningham, John. Hungarian Cinema: From Coffee House to Multiplex. London: Wallflower Press, 2004.

Liehm, Mira, and Antonin J. Liehm. The Most Important Art: Eastern European Film after 1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

NemeskUrty, Istvan. Word and Image: History of the Hungarian Cinema. 2nd ed. Budapest: Corvina Books, 1974.

Paul, David W., ed. Politics, Art and Commitment in the East European Cinema. London: Macmillan, 1983.

Petrie, Graham. History Must Answer to Man: The Contemporary Hungarian Cinema. Budapest: Corvina Books, 1978.

Portuges, Catherine. Screen Memories: The Hungarian Cinema of Mcirta Meszciros. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Stoil, Michael Jon. Cinema Beyond the Danube: The Camera and Politics. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1974.

Graham Petrie

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