Wednesday, May 13, 2009

István Szabó in Finland

István Szabó visited Finland 11-12 May as the guest of the Hungarian Embassy and our National Audiovisual Archive, and I participated in hosting him. Last time we met at Cinema Orion and at the Hungarian Embassy was in October 1989, just before the fall of the wall.

He is a real gentleman, a thoughtful and sensitive artist.

Hungary had had a special situation in the Eastern Bloc. Although the 1956 revolt was crushed, liberalization happened anyway, and it was also evident in the new Hungarian cinema by István Szabó and his friends but also of older generations.

Hungary became the most liberal zone of freedom in Eastern Europe, and that was also evident in its film culture, one of whose leading artists was Szabó.

The fall of the iron curtain changed everything also in Hungary, although there had been more freedom there than in East Germany, for instance.

In his masterclass presented by Peter von Bagh Szabó downplayed questions of influences, styles and attempts to classify.

As a young man he liked the New Italian Cinema (Visconti, De Sica). He was impressed by la Nouvelle Vague, which changed film-making 100%. He preferred Truffaut and early Godard to the militant Godard.

"I'm not interested in forms. The only thing that interests me is the story: do I get the goosebumps when I read the story."

In Hungary he had lived during the Stalinist rule 1947-1956, and the first five years after the crushing of the people's uprising were hard. "But in 1961-1963 politics changed. The minister said: now is your time. He urged us to do what we want. We did our best work, also Jancsó (The Round-Up), Kovács (Cold Days), Makk (Love), Fabri, Kosa (10.000 Suns), Sara, in 1963-1970. Hungarian cinema was important. "

"There was censorship, we could not blame the USSR, but much was possible. The chief of censorship urged me to be more courageous. It was different in the GDR. Hungarian bureaucrats were pressured from abroad. We developed a flower language."

"I am not aware of having gone deeper and deeper. I tracked down the roots of the problems I dealt with in our Austro-Hungarian background. My grandfather was a village doctor, and he said that every disease has a history."

"Hungarian society is a tribal society the roots of which go back to the feudal era. We had feudal socialism, now we have a feudal tribe democracy. Corruption is difficult to discuss. Character assassination is the way to make life impossible. This habit stems from the middle age. It seems that my films are going back in time."

The long time spans in Fireman Street and in Sunshine, covering many decades. "I was influenced by Dylan Thomas' beautiful radio play Under Milk Wood."

Mephisto: "Klaus Mann's personal knowledge of Nazism was not great, but Erika Mann's first husband was Gustaf Gründgens. Mephisto is also the story of Hungarian society. We have to put our details in the historical films. The paintings on the killing of the children of Bethlehem: Brueghel painted a Dutch village." "You should show the audience Gründgens's Faust film".

"I wanted to find a similar guy to play Höfgren, somebody who has the same power, charisma, energy. Gründgens was refined, Brandauer is a peasant. Film is energy. What is unique in film? What is unique in literature / Dostoyevsky, in painting / Rembrandt, in music / Beethoven? In film, what is unique is the living human face with emotions, emotions in movement, being born, and dying. The energy is on the face of somebody."

"Many fantastic screenplays have been ruined by boring actors. Sometimes, rubbish screenplays turn miraculously, when an actor gives his life, his power to them. The film is always a face. My history of the cinema is only about the faces."

"Face is the essence of the time".

"Garbo: her dignity in the time of the uniform, when people disappeared into a mass. A woman of dignity kept her personality. Marlene: represented danger, the dance on the volcano, in a time when you could be hit by a tiny bullet, and life would be over. Marilyn: We have to enjoy life. The anti-war movement: Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave. Women in power: how cold a woman can be: Faye Dunaway, Catherine Deneuve, ice cold faces. The male stars from Gable to Schwarzenegger. Young man lost in society: Dean. The new fighters: Pacino, Hoffman.

Brandauer. "Colonel Redl: I wrote the script for him. Hanussen was proposed to Brandauer by Artur Brauner."

Taking Sides: "A film based on faces. I wanted to capture the intellectual power of Furtwängler".

Making sense of international production: "I learned from Brandauer. Actors are not really listening to what their partners are saying. Actors communicate with their eyes. Mephisto was filmed in Czech, Polish, Hungarian, and German, and later dubbed into German. The emotions are real, the power is real. The look in the eyes: give energy, take energy, it is an exchange of energy. If the energy is there, language is not that important."

Each society produces its counterforces. "Politics is about reaching power. Humanity is about life. I am not a politician."

An excerpt from Sunshine was shown, where the protagonist condemns Stalinist terror.

"Documents are easy to fake by selection. In Triumph des Willens Hitler is shown as a dangerous seducer. In Stalin footage Stalin's speech is shown without cut in a 10 min long take, he speaks slowly, and all the time plays with a glass of water. They were both mad."

The actor's unexpected behaviour. "I'm always looking forward to that. I invite talented people, and everyone's joy in the work is the basis."

The cinematographer: "He is the most important partner in every detail. The cadrage is planned a year ahead."

Production design: "I never had good relations with the art director. In the beginning I only shot on location, but since the 3. film also in a studio. I believed in La terra trema. Even today, I'm happy to shoot on location. We study the lighting possibilities: where is the door, where is the window."

"But see Ashes and Diamonds, the polonaise sequence. There are 5-6 windows and doors, and from all of them sun is coming in. The scene needs sun from everywhere. It is the fantastic sun of Citizen Kane's library. It is the same sun 17 years later. Light is important."

Digital vs. celluloid: "I like celluloid, it is the habit of the human eye, not so sharp, not so precise, but imperfect. I know the future is different. What is important is the motion picture, the living human face with emotions. I don't care whether it is digital or celluloid."

"Bogart was once asked for a small role in a film. Only one shooting day. - I don't care. No dialogue. - I don't care. What is important is: Who is doing the suffering? Who is representing the pain of the audience?"

No comments: