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The Hungarian film industry has made many contributions to movies over the years. The movie “Mindenki” (Sing) is the second Hungarian film to earn an Oscar in the past two years. Here are 10 top Hungarian movies, including the recent winners, many of which are available with English subtitles:
Top Hungarian Movies #1: Made in Hungaria
If you’re in the mood for a feel-good extravaganza about life, love and music in late-1950’s Budapest, this 2009 light-hearted musical comedy will have you dancing in the aisles. Teen-age Miki immigrated with his parents to America, but they were forced to return to Communist Hungary. With him, he brings a rebellious attitude, a trunkful of rock and roll records, and an ambition to be the next Jerry Lee Lewis. Along the way he falls afoul of the family’s Communist minder, Comrade Bigali, subtly but hilariously played by Péter Scherer. Miki is forced to perform a nationalistic folk song with Bigali’s son in the school talent show, but he turns the tables and his rock-out performance wins everyone over and redeems him with his friends and his girl.
Top Hungarian Movies #2: Szabadság Szerelem
Entitled Children of Glory in English, this 2006 film commemorates the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and also the “Blood in the Water” water polo match between Hungary and Russia. The movie switches back and forth between Hungary and Melbourne, Australia, and looks strikingly at the passion and sadness of one of the most dramatic popular revolts of the twentieth century.
Star athlete and Hungarian Olympic water polo team captain Karcsi Szabó eagerly awaits his trip to Melbourne. During a demonstration in Budapest led by Viki Falk (played mesmerizingly by Kata Dobó), the two meet and the sparks fly. As the water polo match evolves into a bloody free-for-all, Soviet tanks roll into Budapest in one of the most moving tributes ever in a Hungarian movie.
Top Hungarian Movies #3: Hamvadó Cigarettavég
Katalin Karády (1910 – 1990) was one of Hungary’s most-beloved singers and actresses during the 1940s. A chance meeting with impoverished composer Miklós Schuttberger results in one of the longest-lasting, catchiest ballads in Hungarian history, Hamvadó Cigarettavég (Smouldering Cigarette). This movie of the same name often seems to be more biopic than a simple yarn about friendship, artistic achievement and loyalty in the face of overwhelming oppression.
Katalin Karády is best known outside Hungary as an awardee of the Righteous Among the Nations honorific for rescuing Hungarian Jews during World War II.
Top Hungarian Movies #4: Kontroll
Kontroll is a 2003 Hungarian comedy–thriller film set on a fictionalized version of the Budapest Metro system. “Kontroll” in Hungarian refers to the act of ticket inspectors checking to ensure riders have paid their fare. The story revolves around the ticket inspectors, riders and a possible killer.
The plot includes adventure, chases, romance, humor and murder by a mysterious hooded stranger. Dedicated ticket inspector Bulcsú lives and breathes his job and, with his oddball crew, gets involved in one memorable escapade after another. Betrayals and mistaken identities put Bulcsú in peril, but he finally emerges victorious, conquering his adversary and winning the girl.
Kontroll has something for everyone and is a definite must-see on a rainy night with a big box of popcorn and a favorite partner.
Top Hungarian Movies #5: Saul fia (Son of Saul)
Son of Saul is set in Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II and follows a day-and-a-half in the life of Saul Ausländer. Saul is a Hungarian prisoner assigned to duty as a Sonderkommando, a Jewish prisoner forced to salvage valuables from the clothing of the dead, drag their bodies from the gas chambers and scrub the floors immediately afterwards. The plot is complicated and filled with dangers at every turn, but the acting, cinematography and scenery enabled it to win the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, along with the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards (the second Hungarian film to win this award). It also won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, the first Hungarian film to win this award.
Given the theme and setting of this movie, viewers will rightly expect a hard-to-watch, yet memorable, film about the horrors that abounded in the concentration and death camps of World War II. Not for the faint-hearted, it is yet another commemoration of heroism and courage amid the barbarism resulting from war and its consequences.
Top Hungarian Movies #6: The recent Oscar-winning film: Mindenki (Sing)
26th February “in Los Angeles, Hungarian film “Sing” (“Mindenki” in Hungarian) won the 2017 Academy Award for “Best Live Action Short Film”. Set in the early ’90s in Budapest, the 25-minute-long movie – inspired by true events – follows an award-winning school choir, their charming teacher, and the new girl in class whose arrival starts a series of events that might expose the dark truth behind their fame. The movie by Hungarian filmmaker Kristóf Deák is the second Magyar-made film to earn an Oscar in the past two years, after last year’s triumph of “Son of Saul” as the Best Foreign Language Film.” (citation: WeLoveBudapest)
Top Hungarian Movies #7: Cat City
This 1986 Hungarian animated film, in Hungarian “Macskafogó,” or Cat Catcher, is a parody of several famous feature films, mainly the James Bond series. The plot centers around the conflicts between cats and mice on Planet X. One of the mice is sent to the city of “Pokyo” to get the secret plan of a machine which could save the mouse civilization. Naturally, the cats don’t want this to happen, and send some rat gangsters to stop him, but these rats don’t always prove as efficient as expected.
Unfortunately for expat movie-goers, the original Hungarian version of this movie contains a number of puns which cannot be easily rendered or understood in any other language. The film was selected as the Hungarian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 59th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.
Top Hungarian Movies #8: Mephisto
Mephisto was the first Hungarian film to win the award for Best Foreign Language Film, at the 54th Academy Awards. The plot revolves around the retelling of the Dr. Faustus tale, this time having the main character “sell his soul” to the Nazis.
The first third of the film follows struggling, passionate actor Hendrik slogging it out in provincial theaters, occasionally dancing and singing and doing parts in films to progress his career. When the Nazi party offers to make him a star he doesn’t hesitate. Great roles and praise accumulate quickly, and Hendrik revels in his success. Hendrik reprises his role as the great Mephisto and also agrees to run the national theatre, working around the cultural restrictions and brutality of the Nazi Regime. At the end, Hendrik realizes too late that he is not playing the Faustus role; instead, he is Mephisto.
Top Hungarian Movies #9: The Fly
Another contemporary animation classic, this 1980 Hungarian short film by Ferenc Rófusz won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short film. Hungary was at the time a Communist country and Rófusz himself wasn’t allowed to leave the country to attend the Oscars. Just as the award’s presenters were announcing that the Academy would accept the award on behalf of Rófusz, a bearded man bounded onto the stage, made a short acceptance speech, posed for the obligatory photos and departed with the Oscar, leaving an air of mystery as to his identity that has not, to this day, been revealed.
Top Hungarian Movies #10: The Citizen
And a bonus film for present-day audiences: this film was released on January 26, 2017, at a time when Hungary has barely any refugees left after a fence was raised on the southern border and laws were imposed to restrict the flow of migrants into the country.
The Citizen is a Hungarian movie that offers a look at the life of an African migrant, covering the difficulties he faces as he tries to integrate into Hungarian society. Having left war-torn Guinea Bissau in 1976, Marcelo Cake-Baly is making his debut in the film industry by playing the leading role of the African refugee.
Cake-Baly got his Hungarian citizenship in the mid-1990s, but there are times when he still feels the outsider. In the movie, the main character applies for citizenship and falls in love with a Hungarian history and language teacher who tries to prepare him for the tough citizenship exam.
This movie tackles the story about the universal vulnerability of the refugee as a human being. It is definitely one to watch.