My Favourite Hungarian Films – The Round Up/Szegénylegények

Hungarian DVD Cover

Hungarian DVD Cover

This is the tenth in the series of articles exploring my favourite Hungarian films and I have chosen one of the greatest Hungarian films of all time, Miklós Jancsó’s The Round-Up/Szegénylegények (1965). This isn’t necessarily my favourite of the ten films I have written about, but it is hard to argue with its status as one of the finest Hungarian films ever produced, if not the best. Not only did it make the top of the Hungarian film critics list of all-time best Hungarian films, it also made The Guardian’s list of the top 100 films of all time, albeit at number 88. So, clearly we have a film that has much critical acclaim. And it is even more appropriate that we should looking at this masterpiece as the director, Miklós Jancsó, passed away only a few months ago in January 2014 at the grand old age of 92. So this is the right time to discuss this monument to Hungarian cinema.

The story-line of The Round-Up concerns the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution and the Habsburgs brutal efforts to crush the rebellion in the following years. Students of Hungarian history will know only too well the viciousness of the Austrian general Haynau who amongst his many acts of infamy after the revolution had 13 generals executed at Arad. Following the crushing of the revolution Internment camps were set up and rebels were rounded-up and placed in these camps, and this where the film takes place, hence its title for English distribution, The Round-Up. (A more accurate translation of Szegénylegények would be closer to “the hopeless ones” or literally “the unfortunate lads”)

Yet it is not the Austrian themselves who run the camp and administer the interrogations, punishments and executions, it their Hungarian lackeys. This point proves crucial when we look at the historical context of when the film was made.

A scene from The Round-Up

A scene from The Round-Up

The prison guards are seeking the last remaining rebel, Sándor Rózsa and his gang and are convinced he, or members of his gang, are in the internment camp. One prisoners turns informant but his murdered by his fellow prisoners. This death allows the guards to find out who the members of Sándor Rózsa’s gang are. They face the inevitable result of death by firing squad, just like the martyrs of Arad, but this time at the hands of their fellow Hungarians.
Like much of Jancsó’s work, this squarely deals with actual events of Hungarian history. Yet this is not some historical or costume drama full of baroque heros, absurd villains and a triumphant, nationalistic ending. No, it is a sparse, almost abstract portrayal of rebellion and defeat. The film was shot entirely on the puszta, those vast, flat plains of eastern Hungary that seemingly stretch forever. The puszta , with its vastness and angular, flat landscape form a decidedly minimalist backdrop. The landscape is always shown in bright harsh sunlight with the buildings of the internment camp painted in a kind of brutal, sun washed white plaster. The film was shot in black and white so this harshness of white works very well indeed.

It also places the film firmly in the Hungarian context. The puszta occupies a unique place in the Hungarian consciousness, similar to that of the Wild West does in the American consciousness. It is a place harsh nature which man must conquer full of archetypal characters who master the landscape. Several of Jancsó’s films were also shot on the puszta, suggesting a real love affair with this environment.

The starkness of the physical backdrop is also reflected in the overall visual style of the film. We see a high degree of formality in many Jancsó’s films with actors placed in almost ballet-like formation. Shots are composed with an absence of flourish or wastefulness, but with an elegance of simplicity and style. It is afterall a film and therefore a primarily visual experience. This I think was one of Jancsó’s great strengths was his sense of the visual. Much of the movement in the film feels almost choreographed as characters move in precise formation and according to predefined patterns. There is very little looseness in the film and everything feels tightly controlled and scripted.

Jancsó makes great use of the layering of foreground and background. Both exist on a separate plane but the way they frame each other gives a distinctive look to his films. Often the background is the bleak, harsh, puszta but equally maybe a stark architecture or a precisely placed group of people moving in exact patterns.
Characters in Jancsó’s films are rarely portrayed with any great depth of psychoanalysis. Characters don’t reveal themselves through language and their stories but simply by their being in a particular place and time. The characters are never the story for Jancsó. Likewise the plotlines in a Jancsó’s film are never complex nor full of suspense and surprise. The story is simply told and Hungarian audiences would have instantly understood the context of much of Jancsó’s works, and none more so than The Round-Up.

In many of the earlier Miklós Jancsó’s films actors play a secondary role to the visual style of the film and this is true in the case of The Round-Up. Yet it would be remiss of me not to mention the work of Zoltán Latinovits who we met when discussing Szinbad and plays a leading role in this film. He does light up the screen with his brooding looks and smouldering passionate resentment at the circumstances he finds himself in as a prisoner. Any film with Latinovits starring is always worth watching!

Context is everything in this film, and none more so in the era in which it is made. I must admit that when first watching The Round-Up I was struck with the thought of how heck did the Communist regime allow this to be produced and widely screened? This was 1966 remember, a bare 10 years since the revolution. The parallel between the brutality portrayed so clearly and decisively by Jancsó seem a virtual mirror image of the repression after 1956. Prisoners rounded-up, tortured and executed? Informants? A foreign power exercising power and hegemony via local Hungarians? These questions, and their answers, would have been all too clear in the minds of Hungarian audiences when they first saw The Round-Up.

A scene from The Round-Up

A secne from The Round-Up

So obvious was the connection that Jancsó was only allowed to show the film at the Cannes film festival if he explicitly disavowed the film’s connection with 1956. He did this, of course, but in an interview in 2002 he said this about the film and its relationship to the events of 1956.
“In the 1960s, it was obvious that the film was about 1956 as it was so close in time, to everyone all round the world. Before I was allowed to take the film to Cannes, I had to make a declaration that the film had nothing to do with Hungarian politics or society. Everybody knew it wasn’t true. They even showed the film in Russia, though”.

In the same interview he also told an amusing story about the millionth person to see the film in Hungary. (That fact alone tells you how well the film was received in Hungary at the time.) When the millionth viewer was identified in a particular cinema, the seat and row of the person was called out and lucky person sitting there invited to receive the prize for being the millionth person to The Round-Up. There was an old lady sitting in that seat but she didn’t move when called. The seat and row were called again but still the old lady didn’t budge. It turned out she was completely deaf and dumb. I love that story because it reinforces that the film is such a visual experience that even if you can’t hear a word of it, you will know exactly what is happening. But only if you are Hungarian!

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph The Round-Up was not only an enormous success in Hungarian and is regarded as the masterpiece of Hungarian cinema, it also attracted significant world-wide acclaim and influence. It established Jancsó as a major European director and his visual style would go on to influence not just Hungarian directors like Béla Tarr, but the proponent of so-called spaghetti westerns Sergio Leone. Jancsó went on to win the Director’s Prize at Cannes in 1971 for the much-praised Red Psalm/Még kér a nép and he produced several other masterpieces such as The Red and White/Csillagosak katonák (1967), Silence and Cry/Csend és kiállitás (1968), and Confrontation/Fényes szelek (1968), all of which deal with historical instances of oppression and rebellion in some form.

Miklós Janscó in later life.

Miklós Janscó is later life.

Like all artists the quality of his output does vary somewhat and his work in the 1970’s was far from universally praised. His frequent use of nudity at this time, hinted at in The Round-Up, would prove problematic for the more conservative among Hungarians. He did however continue producing films well into his 80’s.
Much of his later work is not available outside of Hungary or Hungarian-speaking audiences so there is a rich treasure trove of films from this most remarkable director yet to be made available to wider audiences. One can only hope that the slowly expanding number of Hungarian cinema available on DVD will continue and gather pace.

As I mentioned in the opening Miklós Jancsó passed away recently on 31 January 2014 aged 92. He had said a few years earlier, “In the old times I tried to take myself seriously, because I thought it was possible to change the world, but not anymore.”. One may respectfully agree or disagree with this sentiment, but what is undeniable is that his legacy will live on through future generations who too will come to love and admire the master of Hungarian cinema.


I would recommend buying the DVD version produced by Second Run DVD. This a handsome print and comes with a comprehensive booklet in English about the film. There is also an additional 20 documentary about the film. Strangely, and perhaps disappointingly, the entire film is available on YouTube.

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Hungary’s New Ambassador To Italy – A Unreconstructed Anti-Semite

This is a disgrace. Viktor Orbán has appointed Péter Szentmihályi Szabó has its new Ambassador to Italy. Szabó is unreconstructed anti-semite of the worst kind. He holds blatantly racists views that he has no qualms about making public. He represents everything that is worst about Hungarian political life. Of course Prime Ministers are free to select whoever they like as Ambassadors and many governments make political appointments to senior posts, rather than career diplomats. And often those diplomats are of questionable quality or know next to nothing about the country they are being posted to. Even the current United States Ambassador to Hungary, Colleen Bradley Bell, falls into this category. (See here for details.)

So, just how much of anti-semite is Szabó? Here is a sample of his views.

The agents of Satan are the devotees of globalism; they are not attached to their names, to their firms, to their own homeland. They have no attachment, only bank accounts. They are born traitors because they have never had their own country. They are in every radio and television station where they bray among themselves speaking in a nasal sing-song way and slimily blurring their r’s. They live off their fears.

You can read the full translation here and if you can read Hungarian, the original article is here.

Let’s us remember that 2014 is the 70th Anniversary of the Holocaust and Hungary has said many fine words about this. But then they go and do something like! The man is a disgrace and has no right to be in any position representing the Hungarian government or people.

Update – 26 July 2014 is reporting that Szabó has declined the role as Ambassador to Italy.

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Roma: A Hard Life.

In January 2013 I posted this post on Metafilter, It generated some interesting discussion, as always on Metafilter.

The status of Roma in Hungary has been brought into sharp focus with a controversial article [link in Hungarian] by prominent ruling-party FIDESZ member, Zsolt Bayer, in which he says, “a significant part of the Roma are unfit for co-existence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals.” The Guardian reports on the growing anger at the article, The Hungarian Spectrum, and well-known poet and translator of Hungarian literature George Szirtes weigh in with English translations of some of Bayer’s article. Many leading Hungarian politicians condemn the article.

Nonetheless, discrimination against Roma is widespread and pervasive. Myths persist about the life of Roma. Violent attacks [PDF] against Roma have taken place and the far-right Jobbik party actively espouses an anti-Roma platform. In response many Roma have sought asylum in Canada.

For those wanting a sensitive, and accurate, account of life as a Roma in Hungary the prize-winning film, Just The Wind/Csak a szél, which has been nominated (unsuccessfully) as Hungary’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars, is highly recommended.

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My Ten Favourite Hungarian Films – Family Nest (Családi tűzfészek) by Béla Tarr

Photo of Family Nest - DVD

Family Nest – DVD

One of the nice things about this series for me is choosing to write about my favourite Hungarian films, rather than writing about the best Hungarian films. Selecting those films which I consider my favourites is naturally more subjective, than choosing those films that meet more objective criteria, and it allows me free reign to write about films that, for whatever reason, mean something personal to me. I would hope that there is some overlap between the two categories and in many cases there are. Of the five films I have discussed already as being among my favourite Hungarian films,The Witness (A Tanú) and Merry-go-Round (Körhinta) would easily make just about everybody’s list of best examples of Hungarian cinema. The film I will discuss in this article, Family Nest (Családi tűzfészek), by the great Hungarian director, Béla Tarr, would, however, be unlikely to make many critics’ lists of the best Hungarian films by whatever standards you choose. It is nonetheless one of my favourites.

So, why is this film a favourite? In part it has to do with one of my self-imposed restrictions in selecting my ten favourite Hungarian films, and that is that only one film from a particular director is allowed onto the list. Why this restriction? Mostly because the list would otherwise be almost completely dominated by two directors: Béla Tarr being one of them and István Szabó the other. Between these two I could choose more than a dozen favourite films they have directed. Their output (in particular Szabó’s) has been of such a high standard over a long period of time that it would be impossible not to include both Szabó’s and Tarr’s many masterpieces in my list of 10 favourite Hungarian films – hence the self-imposed restriction of one per director in my list.

Photo of Béla Tarr

Béla Tarr

Béla Tarr is undoubtedly one of the giants of Hungarian cinema over the past 30-odd years. His highly individual style is characterised by extraordinarily long takes, his movies nearly always being filmed in black and white, with a grim and dense atmosphere that draws the viewer into a world that becomes extraordinary. Over the years his films have become grimmer and bleaker; their outlook on life is the antithesis of the Hollywood happy ending approach, where stories follow a predicable path to resolution, completeness and moving forward. Tarr’s films are not like that at all, quite the reverse.

His latest and last film, The Turin Horse (A torinói ló) for example follows a peasant and his daughter over six days as their world gradually dims to darkness. Almost the six days of creation in reverse. And let’s not forget his six and half hour epic film, Satantango (Sátántangó), which follows the lives of a crumbling, mud-caked, rain-sodden Hungarian village and its inhabitants and their equally crumbling lives. Cheery stuff? Absolutely not! But so beautiful and powerfully shot that it leaves you gasping for air at its power – well, me at least! There are other equally powerful films with the same insistent long takes and depressing stories and atmosphere to choose from among his work.

As I said at the beginning, this series is, however, about my favourite films, not necessarily the best Hungarian films. Family Nest is one of my favourite Hungarian films although not Tarr’s best film by any criteria. It was among the very first Béla Tarr films that I watched and that goes a long way to explaining its status as one of my favourites. We had recently returned from living in Hungary, including six months living in a small apartment in a housing estate in one of the poorer parts of Budapest. Family Nest takes place in just such an apartment and so there was a strong sense of familiarity that attracted me to this film.

The story is relatively straightforward: a husband (Laci) and wife (Irén) and their young daughter are forced to live with Laci’s parents in a small one-bedroom apartment, while they wait – hopelessly – for an apartment of their own. As three generations live cheek-by-jowl in such a confined space, tension is inevitable and much of the film is about the arguments and disputes they endure. Laci’s father, like his mother, (their names are never mentioned in the film), constantly criticises Irén and seeks to undermine her worthiness as Laci’s wife. The conflicts, constant pressure and back-biting lead to the marriage breaking up under the weight and pressure of their living conditions. In the end both are left, separate and in tears, yearning for the happy family life they cannot have.

On one level the film is a damning indictment of the Hungarian housing situation of the 1970s when due to bureaucratic bungle, apartments remained empty while thousands of couples waited for their turn to be allocated a place of their own. It was not uncommon for children to live with their parents long after their wedding. In one scene, Irén pleads with housing official to be allocated an apartment. She implores, “All I am asking, is for you to try and understand what it means, not to be able to sleep when you want, eat when you want.” He replies coldly, “I am not paid to put myself in your place.”

Trying to fix a broken system.

Trying to fix a broken system.

But the film’s implicit criticism of Hungary in the 1970s is made explicit in a scene where Laci’s father and Irén attempt to mend a framed picture of the communist coat of arms that her daughter has broken at school and has brought home to be mended. As the two work to glue the picture back together, the metaphor couldn’t clearer. The system is broken and while the cracks can be papered over, it is broken nonetheless.

But there is an even more damning indictment of Hungarian society in general, including its inherent prejudice towards Roma, coupled with male power. One of Irén’s friends is a Roma. During a family game of cards, Laci’s mother says “What do you say? Your daughter-in-law. Bringing that dirty gypsy girl. She stuffs her with food, with coffee, with cigarettes.” Laci agrees by claiming Roma are all thieves. Certainly that attitude was prevalent then, as it is still today. Shortly afterwards there is an unpleasant scene where Gábor, Laci’s brother, after drinking heavily, is shown raping Irén’s Roma friend while Laci watches on. Roma’s lowly place in Hungarian society is laid bare. Of course, nothing happens to the men and the rape is unreported.

The hypocrisy of male sexual relations is further explored to devastating effect. Laci’s father continues to imply that Irén was “loose” while Laci was away in the army. However, the film reveals that Laci’s father is having an affair. He proclaims his love, or rather his desire for his mistress, in a rough, drunken manner while they are having a drink at a local pub. His mistress rejects him, leaves, and Laci’s father drowns his sorrows further while softly singing a sad old Hungarian song about how hard life is. He is a thoroughly unsympathetic character and Tarr is both perceptive and brave in revealing the underlying sexism of Hungarian society. The film is often seen and admired for its trenchant portrayal of the social ills of a communist society, but to my mind it is equally devastating commentary on the nature of personal relationships, especially between men and women.

Photo of Laci's Father, played by Gábor Kun

Laci’s Father, played by Gábor Kun.

The film was made in 1978, at the same time as the satirical The Witness was being made. On one level it is surprising to me that Family Nest was nonetheless released in Hungarian cinemas the following year. However, it does illustrate that Hungarian film-makers had a remarkable degree of freedom during the Kádár years – provided there was no direct criticism of the Communist Party or the events of 1956. If film-makers and other artists avoided these issues, they were largely left alone. What sort of reaction Family Nest received upon release is unknown and while its social criticism would no doubt have been well received, I like to imagine many Hungarian middle-aged males found it uncomfortable viewing. But who knows, perhaps not…

The film itself was shot over six days, using a mixture of professional and non-professional actors, the latter being characteristic of Tarr throughout his directorial career. This, combined with the extensive use of hand-held cameras, necessitated by the cramped real-life apartment in which the film is shot, gives the film a decidedly documentary feel. There are many close-ups contributing to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the whole film, especially as it was shot in a slightly grainy black-and-white. The fast-panning of the camera, unusual in later Tarr films, also contributes to the roughness and grimness of life in a crowded Hungarian apartment of the 1970s.

Only in the last two shots do we see Tarr’s future penchant for long takes, when both Laci and Irén are shown, in separate full close-ups, confronting separation and expressing their disappointment, while gently weeping, that if only they had had their own apartment they could have worked things out and saved their marriage. They are separated from each other and facing a bleak future where hope does not play a role at all. It is quite heartbreaking.

While the themes explored in Family Nest are universal, the film itself is firmly rooted in Hungarian society. Whether it is the apartment’s furnishings, the language, the incidental music, or the TV programmes that play in the background, the setting and tone of the film are unmistakably Hungarian.

photo of Typical Housing Estate in 1970s Hungary

Typical Housing Estate in 1970s Hungary

If this sounds depressing it is; but the skill with which Tarr shows his characters and their situation is effective and compelling and makes for a worthwhile cinematic experience. Tarr would later say that in his early days he wanted to change the world with his films and you can sense the rage of an angry young man in this film. Tarr’s next two films, The Outsider (Szabadgyalog), and The Prefab People (Panelkapcsolat) continued to explore the themes of societal and personal alienation, and decay with a similar sense of anger.

In the end it is the intensity and searing manner in which Tarr portrays the lives of this family in their “fire nest” (a literal translation of tűzfészek) that makes this one of my favourite Hungarian films. Tarr has made better films, but this portrayal of family life in 1970s Hungary will remain with me always.

Family Nest, (1979), screenplay by Béla Tarr; directed by Béla Tarr. Starring Laszlone Horvath, László Horváth and Gábor Kun. Running time: 108 minutes.

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Father: (Apa) by István Szabó.

Photo of DVD cover of Father

DVD Cover – Father

István Szabó is perhaps the most internationally recognised Hungarian film director. An Oscar winner with Mephisto in 1982, he has been making films since the 1960s, and he is still producing films of outstanding quality. His most recent film, The Door (Az ajtó), was released in 2012. With nearly 50 years of film-making it was always going to be hard for me to pick my favourite film by him – especially if I am to stick to my self-imposed restriction of selecting only one director for each of my ten favourite films. Indeed, with his output it would be quite easy to select ten favourite films from Szabó alone. In addition to the two other films already mentioned, such gems as Colonel Redl, Rokonok (Relatives), Being Julia, Édes Emma, drága Böbe (Sweet Emma, Dear Böbe) and the magnificent Sunshine would easily make such a list. So why did I choose Father from such a large and worthy body or work?

Firstly, Father is a distinctly Hungarian film in its tone, feel and texture. Many of Szabó’s films have been international productions, and while many of these, for example, Sunshine, and The Door, deal with either Hungarian history, as in the case of the former, or Hungarian literature, as in the latter, the use of English-speaking actors and consequently English dialogue, mean these films have less of a Hungarian feel about them. There are scenes in Father that can only be understood in a Hungarian context, even though, as I detail below, the theme of the film is much more universal.

Secondly, and this may sound like a contradiction of the reason above, Father deals with the universal theme of “the-boy-becoming-the-man” by dealing with the idealised image of his father. I found this was dealt with in a very satisfying way: honest, loving, somewhat sentimental, but never maudlin or cloying. It is ultimately an enjoyable film, one that leaves a pleasing sense of satisfaction and memory at the end. And you cannot always say that about much of Hungarian cinema!

Thirdly, and this is perhaps a rather indulgent reason, the air of nostalgia evident while watching this film 50 years after its making is palpable . Shot in black and white it feels like Hungary in the 1960’s even though the film concerns events several years earlier. Yes, I know those times were not quite what they seem today, there were still secret police and Hungary was ultimately a communist dictatorship and people suffered because of this. Nonetheless from the vantage point of the early 21st century, Father conveys a sense of longing for times past when times were simpler, if not necessarily better. As I said, this is rather self-indulgent, but there you go.

Lastly you can see in Father the emerging talent displayed by Szabó. It was only his second feature-length film, but you can clearly see Szabó’s film-making abilities and talents in this early work, not to mention his script-writing prowess. It is rather like recognising raw talent in a sportsperson, knowing that one day they will perform at the highest level. Szabó’s later films would inevitably become more technically assured, with higher production values and with more nuanced approaches. On display in this film is a delightful youthfulness with the promise of so much more to come.

Photo of A young Bence, played by Dániel Erdély

A young Bence, played by Dániel Erdély.

So, to the film itself. It concerns Bence Takó, a boy whose father, a doctor, is killed in World War II. Played by an impressive Dániel Erdély, Bence idealises his father and imagines all sorts of heroic deeds being performed by his father. He recalls his father as an underground hero, as a great doctor, as a great outdoors man. He even visualizes his father as a great statesman, receiving the homage of the nation. The image of his father is what sustains the young Bence through the difficult days of boyhood. The scenes where Bence imagines his father performing such great deeds are shown in a realistic, yet nostalgic style, with charm and humour.

The focus of the film though is very much of looking back of the image and memory of his father. After the early boyhood days, we see Bence, now a young adult, played by the always impressive András Bálint, begin to confront the truth of his father. It turns out that his father was a rather mild-mannered, somewhat ordinary man. There is no great revelation in this in one sense: the tone of the film is realistic in the way it portrays the idealised father and never paints him as super-human. On the eve of the 1956 revolution, Bence falls in love. The object of his affection is a Jewish girl, Anni, played by Kati Sólyom, and in falling in love, Bence decides to confront who he is and who his father really was. There is a sense that by being in love with someone, he has to deal with who he really is so that he can truly love someone else.

As a counter-point to Bence’s idealised view of his father, Anni’s family history is infinitely more tragic. Like so many Jewish Hungarians at this time, her parents died in the concentration camps and Anni is left feeling uncertain as to who she is. She wishes to escape from the tragedy of the past but does not know who she really is. She says, “I’m a Hungarian, right? Simply a Hungarian. I’ve decided a hundred times there’s no past… nothing. But then something happens and I want to be one of them again. I want people to know the reason my parents had to die.”

Photo from Father of Anni and Bence.

Anni (Kati Sólyom) and Bence (András Bálint).

I think Szabó was courageous to address the experience of Jewish Hungarians in this way as the topic has always been a sensitive one for many Hungarians. To strengthen this point, there is a powerful scene in which Bence and Anni sign up as extras in a film that portrays the rounding up of Jewish Hungarians in Budapest during World War II. Initially he is cast as one of those being rounded-up, wearing the yellow star, and herded across the Chain Bridge in Budapest, side by side with Anni. Then, part way through, the director decides he needs more guards in the scene. He re-casts Bence as one of the guards doing the herding. In a highly symbolic scene, Bence removes his yellow star and replaces it with an armband of the Arrow Cross. Instead of walking beside Anni, he is now shown pushing and shoving her and the crowd…

We follow Bence as he goes back to the village where his father worked as a doctor and asks those who knew him what sort of man he was. “He was a nice guy with glasses”, one replies. “A very kind man with smiling eyes”, another says. So, he was an ordinary, kind man, who did his best to help others, well remembered by others… Just like most of us“.

And now Bence has the courage to be honest with himself, and with Anni, about his father. He confesses to her that the stories he has told her about his father are untrue and it is time for him to find his own way in life. He tells her, “I have to do something on my own, with my own strength. Something that requires courage and persistence… I must swim across [The Danube] alone… and not just tell others that Father used to do it… as if it had been my achievement. Only weaklings keep making up stories.” The boy has become a man in his own right.

Photo of István Szabó

István Szabó

Father received critical acclaim on its release including winning the then prestigious Grand Prize at the Moscow Film Festival, as well being nominated for an Oscar as the Best Foreign Language Film. (Szabó would claim this Oscar in 1982 for his Mephisto.) Perhaps more importantly, Father was chosen as one of the 12 best Hungarian films of all time by Hungarian film critics in 2000.

The full title of the film in Hungarian is, Apa: Egy hit naplója. This has been erroneously translated in some English DVDs as Father: A diary of a week. A more accurate translation would be Father: Diary of a Belief or perhaps Diary of a Faith. I suspect “hit” has been misread as “hét”, meaning “week” or “seven”. Sloppy nonetheless.

The father-son relationship, like any parent-child relationship, is complex – fraught with ambitions and illusions. Each of us as we emerge into adulthood need to put distance between ourselves and our parents so that we can truly grow up as fully fledged adults. It is a necessary task. Szabó’s Father is one of the finest examples in cinema of this journey, told with honesty, humour and love, which is how all such journeys should be.

Father, (1966), screenplay by István Szabó and János Herskó; directed by István Szabó. Starring Miklós Gábor, Klári Tolnay, András Balint, Dani Erdélyi, Kati Sólyom. Running time: 95 minutes.

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