Weeks in lockdown gave us all the opportunity to brush up on our Central European classics. After last week’s list of ten must-watch cult movies from Poland, here’s our list of five all-time iconic movies from Hungary anyone should have on their watchlist.
People of the Mountains (Emberek a havason, 1942) by István Szőts
István Szőts’s People Of The Mountains was ahead of its time in many ways. The story follows the life of an ordinary family in a remote Transylvanian mountain-community. The film explores profound themes ranging from the negative effects of capitalist industrialisation to pantheistic Christianity. Shot on location, the gorgeous landscape does not only serve as a beautiful background but becomes a character in its own.
Hated by the Horthy-regime for its advocacy of local communities instead of the nation and despised by the communist regime for its folkish themes, People Of The Mountains was forgotten for a long time, but is slowly being rediscovered, partially thanks to the contemporary relevance of its themes. movies from hungary
Merry-Go-Round (Körhinta, 1956) by Zoltán Fábri
Merry-Go-Round is a love story set in the backdrop of communist rural Hungary: Mari and Máté are in love but Mari’s father is adamant on marrying his daughter to a rich but unkind man. Being in the newly formed agriculture cooperative, Máté cannot compete with his rival financially but the young lovers do everything in order to stay together.
Director Zoltán Fábri had been a painter before he turned to filmmaking and it shows; every frame of the film is as beautiful as a realist nineteenth-century painting. Merry-Go-Round was also the debut of legendary Hungarian actress Mari Törőcsik and it immediately earned her stardom.
The Witness (A tanú, 1969) by Péter Bacsó
Made in 1969 but only premiering in 1979, The Witness gained cult status shortly after its release. Péter Bacsó’s classic criticised the communist regime in the most understandable way: through comedy.
When comrade Pelikán, an ordinary dyke-reeve gets caught for illegally slaughtering a pig in his basement, the communist party tries to use him in a show trial, resulting in absurd situations.
By simultaneously making fun of both the Rákosi and the Kádár-regime, The Witness is one of the most iconic films in the history of Hungarian cinema.
The Fifth Seal (Az ötödik pecsét, 1976) by Zoltán Fábri
The Fifth Seal is set in 1944 Hungary, ruled by the far-right arrow-cross regime. One day, a fifth person joins a friendship group in their regular pub to discuss a moral dilemma: would you rather be a wealthy but cruel tyrant or a slave who is morally pure but lives in misery?
Exploring the greatest questions of morality, often through symbolism, The Fifth Seal is one of the best pieces of East-Central European Cinema.
Understand it, and you’ll understand the entirety of the region’s 20th-century history.
Whooping Cough (Szamárköhögés, 1987) by Péter Gárdos
By the eighties, as the communist regime was slowly crumbling, making films about the 1956 revolution was no longer a taboo.
In Whooping Cough, we see how the failed revolution unfolds through the eyes of a middle-class family and especially their two young children.
By seeing the children experience the revolution as they come of age, we see the early socialist Hungarian society becoming increasingly disillusioned and coming to grips with its new reality. movies from hungary
By Ábel Bede
Ábel Bede was born in Budapest and is currently studying History at Durham University. He wrote his dissertation on early 20th century Hungarian politics and culture and published several pieces in prominent Hungarian newspapers. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!