I have already dealt with Poland, in a separate post. The films recommended below, are from Hungary, and Romania, both countries with an established film industry, and a steady output; in the case of Romania, mainly since the fall of Ceausescu. Given the history of these lands, it is understandable that some of their most important films tend to deal with the darker side of life.
Another Way. This moving Hungarian film from 1982, deals with life behind the Iron Curtain, just after the 1956 uprising. It stars the always marvellous Polish actress, Grazyna Szapoloska, mentioned in previous posts, and Jadwiga Jankowska, also Polish. The country is occupied by Russian troops, and political repression is at its height. Two magazine journalists find themselves attracted to one another, the problem being that they are both female, and one is married to an Army officer. The story deals with how they manage their relationship of forbidden love, and deal with the intellectual repression in their working lives. Set against the backdrop of censorship, and fear of exposure that could mean prison, or worse, this story is intelligent, as well as being tense and involving. In spite of the central theme, of impossible lesbian love, the sexual contact between the two female leads is always tastefully shown, and not intended to titillate, or shock the viewer. This is an important film, about meaningful issues, at a time when life in the East was very different.
Kontroll. There are few films like this comedy drama from Hungary, made in 2003. It deals with a ragtag band of fare enforcement officers on the Budapest Underground system, their dreams, their loves and desires, and a serial killer on the loose. They are also pitted against other teams, to achieve higher collection rates of unpaid fares, in a city where it is the norm to never pay for a ticket. They are a likeable bunch, and you feel for them, as they deal with the throng of uncooperative passengers, often violent in their reaction to being confronted. Issued only with an armband, quickly slipped on as they enter the carriage, they have little support from the system, and seem to be fighting a battle that is impossible to win. Lurching from slapstick, to dark drama, and on to straightforward romance, the film has little structure, and is all the better for the lack of it. So, a film about Hungarian Ticket Enforcement Officers, shot entirely underground, and with no known stars; what am I thinking of? Believe me, you will enjoy it. This short trailer will give you the idea.
The Red And The White. Set in 1919, during the Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution, this is a 1967 film from the Hungarian director Miklos Jancso. Hungarian volunteers leave their country to aid the Russian Communists, in the fighting against the White Army near the River Volga. Directed with great style, and with meticulously choreographed sequences involving hundreds of men, set in vast landscapes, this film is as much about how it is photographed, as it is about the story and events portrayed. There are sweeping battle scenes, executions, rape, and the whole terror of war is brilliantly portrayed. Legions of cavalry appear, as if out of the ground itself, panicking men run shirtless, across vast steppes and into rivers. If you think that you have seen it all, this film will make you realise that you haven’t. Here is a short clip of some of the scenes.
4 Months, 3 Weeks,and 2 Days. This award-winning 2007 film from Romania, is set twenty years earlier, during the oppressive Communist regime of Ceausescu. Abortion is illegal, birth control outlawed also; the girls who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy, live lives little different from wanted criminals, under constant fear of detection, imprisonment, and death. Gabita is young, and pregnant. She seeks help and advice from her best friend, Otilia, and together, they reluctantly decide to visit an undercover abortionist, Mr. Bebe. This meeting changes the lives of both girls, propelling them into the Romanian underworld, where they are at the mercy of everyone they encounter, including State officials, informers, and crooks. The whole thing is a relentlessly bleak experience, up to, and including, the distressing climax of the film. It has much to say about oppression, the treatment of women, and close friendships, strained to breaking point. A thoughtful and compelling work, but no smiles, I’m afraid. Here is the film trailer, with subtitles in English.
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. Romania again, this time from 2005. This film will make you laugh or smile at first, at the character of the title, a brilliant portrayal of resignation, and lack of expectation, from the fine actor Ion Fiscuteanu. He waits for an ambulance to take him to hospital, yet when he gets there, they are told to take him somewhere else, and then somewhere else, and so on, into the long night. With a small cast, much of the plot set in an ambulance driving around the run-down streets of Bucharest, and a storyline that gets darker as the film goes on, you might be forgiven for thinking that this film is bordering on farce, and has little to offer. I can assure you that the opposite is true. You will be drawn into the last hours of Mr Lazarescu, and the group of people that try to help, or hinder him through them. Notes of realism, and totally believable acting, give the whole thing a documentary feel, and you become aware that you are a witness to a great story of callous lack of concern and hopelessness, in a system that has collapsed from within. Once again, a short trailer with subtitles.
There you are, worthy works from behind the former Iron Curtain. Serious stuff that deserves your time, and attention; all recommended unreservedly.