Budapest has become a favorite filming location for Hollywood productions, in particular the Palace District where the Tasting Table is located. But Hungarians, in their own right, have long been successful and influential filmmakers, both in Hungary and other countries. Now that movie theaters—along with everything else—are closed and we are all entertaining ourselves at home, why not open a bottle of Hungarian wine and dig into some Hungarian film history. The below list contains both classics and some newer releases. The Hungarian National Film Institute also has this list of 39 Hungarian classics (with subtitles) which are available to watch online, and this list has some additional options.
ON BODY AND SOUL
This 2017 drama, written and directed by Ildikó Enyedi, was nominated for an Oscar, and picked up a handful of other international awards. Two introverted people who work at a slaughterhouse find out by chance that they share the same dream every night. After initial disbelief, they accept the situation, and decide to fall asleep in the same room. They begin to fall in love during their dream, trying to recreate what happened in their shared dream and make it come true.
In this 2017 film, directed by Ferenc Török, two unknown Holocaust survivors arrive in a village in August 1945. The villagers are paranoid and fearful of their arrival, worried that they might have come to reclaim the Jewish property that residents had since claimed as their own. The villagers are on edge, as the film poses the question which still causes tension in Hungary: how complicit were the Hungarians in expelling their Jewish neighbors?
SON OF SAUL
Set in Auschwitz, this 2015 film directed by László Nemes follows a day-and-a-half in the life of a prisoner, Saul Ausländer. Saul was a Hungarian prisoner assigned to duty as a sonderkommando—a prisoner with the task of salvaging valuables from the clothing of the dead, removing their bodies from the gas chambers, and scrubbing the chambers’ floors. The film is a portrayal of courage in the face of constant danger and horror.
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó, this 2015 film follows the life of Hagen, a street dog who befriends Lili, a 13-year-old who is going through some tough times. Lili’s father kicks Hagen out of the house, and the film follows Hagen’s adventures in survival, as he and other dogs form an uprising against the humans who harmed them.
Based on the novel by Magda Szabó, this 2012 film was directed by István Szabó. The story takes place in 1960s Communist Hungary and is about a novelist (played by Martina Gedeck) and her relationship with her eccentric maid (played by Helen Mirren). The novelist becomes entranced by her maid, as the two of them form an unusual relationship which brings to light long-buried secrets.
This 2011 film directed by Péter Bergendy takes place in 1957, one year after the failed ’56 Revolution. The main character is an informant in charge of testing citizens for their loyalty to the dictator, Kádar, when he gets a visit from Éva. Meanwhile, he is also unknowingly being watched by his superior, as his relationship with Éva unfolds.
CHILDREN OF GLORY
This 2006 movie tells the story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and the bloody water polo match between Hungary and the USSR which happened as the revolution was unfolding. Directed by Krisztina Goda, the film switches between Budapest—where Soviet tanks were rolling through the streets—and the Olympic games in Melbourne, where the Hungarian water polo team was beating the Soviets in the bloodiest water polo match in history.
This 2005 film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by the Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész, who also wrote the screenplay. Directed by Lajos Koltai, it tells the story of a teenage boy who survives Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The music is by Ennio Morricone.
A KIND OF AMERICA
Tamás, a young director of TV commercials, dreams of directing a feature film and is seeking financing. He’s surprised to hear from an American producer, and with the help of his hapless brothers, heads to the US to make a good impression and hopefully secure the financing. Gábor Herendi directed this film in 2002, and there were two sequels.
This comedy/thriller is set in the Budapest metro system, where ticket inspector, Bulcsu, and his crew spend their days making sure riders have paid their fares; dealing with a rival inspection team; and dealing with a possible killer. Bulcsu also manages to fall in love with a quirky subway rider along the way. Nimrod Antal directed this film in 2003, and it has become a cult classic.
István Szabó directed this 1999 film which follows the epic tale of a Hungarian-Jewish family through five generations from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s. The family story (which some say resembles part of the path of the real-life Zwack family), spans the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through to the period after the 1956 Revolution, and all of the history, politics, war, and social change that ensues. Ralph Fiennes, Jennifer Ehle, and Rachel Weisz played starring roles.
SWEET EMMA, DEAR BÖBE
As was typical with the fall of Communism, Russian teachers transformed into English teachers from one day to the next, as did Böbe and Emma in this 1991 film. They struggle to stay ahead of their students, while also keeping their own live stogether as their worlds changed. Director István Szabó won the Silver Bear at the 1992 Berlinale for this film.
DIARY FOR MY MOTHER AND FATHER
This 1990 film was director Márta Mészáros’ third in a trilogy of autobiographical films, which follows Diary for My Children and Diary for My Loves. An orphaned student comes of age during the aftermath of the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution, and struggles to understand the different reactions of those around her to the revolt and the brutal Soviet suppression.
DIARY FOR MY LOVES
This 1986 film was director Márta Mészáros’ second in a trilogy of semi- autobiographical films, which follows Diary for My Children. The story picks up in the early 1950s, after Juli loses her lover in a Stalinist purge. She dreams of becoming a film director, but her documentary style causes problems with the communist authorities. The film ends with the 1956 Revolution, where Diary for My Mother and Father picks up. The film won the Silver Bear for an outstanding single achievement in the 37th Berlin International Film Festival.
DIARY FOR MY CHILDREN
This 1983 film was director Márta Mészáros’ first in a trilogy of autobiographical films which also includes Diary for My Loves (1987) and Diary for My Mother and Father (1990). This is one of Mészáros’ most political films, vividly portraying how turbulent life was in Hungary during Communism. It is also about her search for information about her early childhood, which she spent in Soviet Kyrgyzstan, and the traumatic events there, including the execution of her father by the secret police. One of Mészáros’ best-known films, this film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984.
Based on a 1965 children’s book by István Fekete, this 1981 film (by Attila Dargay) is the story of Vuk, a little fox whose family was killed by hunters. The 1980s were the golden age of Hungarian animation, with a heavy use of irony, political references, and thought-provoking themes alluding to the government.
25 FIREMAN’S STREET
Directed by István Szabó in 1973, the residents of an apartment house slated for demolition revisit their varied pasts, as an uncertain future looms. Past experiences, dreams, nostalgia, regrets, and loss all come into focus as the residents await the wrecking ball, and confront their pasts.
THE BOYS OF PAUL STREET
This 1968 film, directed by Zoltán Fábri, is based Ferenc Molnár’s 1906 novel The Boys of Paul Street, which is one of Hungary’s most iconic works of literature. Set in turn-of-the-century Budapest, in the eighth district (also home to The Tasting Table), two rival gangs of boys fight for their turf, which they refer to as their “homeland.” It’s a timeless coming-of-age story, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Since the death of his father, Tako has had fantasies about him in different roles—as a partisan freedom-fighter, a world traveler, a decorated hero. As Tako grows up he struggles to live up to the heroic images he has created about his father, and the fantasies become more elaborate. István Szabó directed this film in 1967.
Directed by Zoltán Fábri in 1965, this film was one of the first to confront Hungary’s Communism of the 1940s and 1950s. The story follows a young journalist investigating the murder of an agriculture worker. That the beginning of the film was critical of the Soviets who crushed the Hungarian Revolution, but then later warms towards the regime, could have been a reflection of Fábri’s good relationship with the Communist government at the time.