2018 has been a bumper year for Budapest, with record visitor numbers and an even higher global profile for the Hungarian capital. With a first ever award of two Michelin stars for Onyx and a spectacular performance by Dua Lipa at a packed Sziget Festival, not to mention a first Brewdog bar in town and queues round the block for a Frida Kahlo exhibition, this city has seen many memorable events this year. Relive some of these magic moments with our special series looking back on 2018 – and look forward with us to 2019! Today’s feature: the best English-friendly Hungarian films of 2018.
Bad Poems by the director of For Some Inexplicable Reason is personal, honest, witty and adorable. Centring around a break-up, Bad Poems is about nostalgia, love, aimless drifting and about the director himself at the same time. But instead of trying to find the meaning of life and answer its biggest questions, this film rather feels like meeting an old friend and talking through the night about those moments in the past that shaped us into who we are.
Kafia was 15 when she escaped from Somalia but we pick up her story when she already speaks Hungarian and is preparing for her graduation exams at a children's home in Budapest. She no longer wears the hijab, takes swimming lessons, does modelling and is drifting further and further away from Muslim culture. In the meantime, she worries about what her mum would think about who she's dating – just like any regular teenage girl. This is where the film puts its emphasis – Easy Lessons is like Kafia's confession to her mum about her life in Budapest as an immigrant far from home.
I Hope You'll Die Next Time
Sometimes compared to Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, this Hungarian production tackles a quintessential topic in our modern day, cyber bullying, with great sensitivity. In the film, Eszter (16) is secretly in love with her English teacher, while Péter (16) is hopelessly in love with Eszter. One day, the teacher announces that he will leave the school and move to London. On the same day, Eszter gets a special farewell e-mail from him and her life turns upside down. According to director Mihály Schwechtje: “The role of directors is to paint a picture of the world we live in”. For Hungary in 2018, this is it.
As three young boys embark on a trip to discover Europe, their lovely grandmothers — a British spy, a dancer from Nazi Germany and a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and Communist — recall their past, leading viewers on a virtual journey through the 20th century. The film is a unique interpretation of the connections between generations and talks with great humanity and humour about important issues such as dealing with trauma and the end of life. This funny and fresh feature gained praise at international film festivals and won the Best Documentary Award from Hungarian film critics.
Fortysomething Anna is the wife of a lawyer, Szabolcs, and the mother of three little children. Caught up in all the commotion of motherhood and overstretched finances, she can only focus on averting immediate crises rather than seeing the bigger picture, and contemplating what truly matters to her. Her days are a rush of school runs and extracurricular activities, teaching Italian and managing the household. And when night falls, her relationship with her husband is rather businesslike; talking money and sharing parental duties. And on top of all of that, Szabolcs is having an affair with Anna’s friend, Gabi. Does all of this send Anna over the edge? Shot in handheld style and filled with constant cacophony, the film creates a completely immersive experience and simply pulls you in. This Hungarian production picked up the FIPRESCI award for best first feature at Cannes Critics’ Week.
Ruben Brand, Collector
Thrill-a-second Ruben Brandt, Collector is the latest and so far longest masterwork of Budapest-based Serbian animator Milorad Krstić. Milorad takes up the story in our recent interview: ‘I’m a painter and I wanted to make a feature animation about painting, about the fine arts. The main character is Ruben Brandt, after the painters Rubens and Rembrandt. To be a more interesting movie, I packaged art into a crime story: Ruben Brandt is a serial burglar of famous galleries.’
In 2016, László Nemes Jeles’ first feature, Hungarian Holocaust drama Son of Saul, became the second Magyar-made movie to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. This year, his second full-length feature, Sunset, competed at the 75th Venice Film Festival and even though it did not win, it received great acclaim and a four-star review from The Guardian. The film is about a young orphan girl, Írisz Leiter, who moves to Budapest in 1913 with the hope of becoming a milliner at the prestigious boutique of her deceased parents. But the current owner of the Leiter Hat Store, Oszkár Brill, rejects her. Írisz finds out from a stranger that she has a brother, Kálmán. While looking for her family, Írisz discovers dark secrets, and gets caught up in the turmoil of a society fated to fail.
Director of hit Hungarian romantic comedy Liza, the Fox-Fairy, Károly Ujj Mészáros now ventures into a Scandinavian-style crime story. X – the eXploited is about personal drama and a murder mystery unfolding in modern-day Budapest, a city where political demonstrations are part of daily life. A city where history and the recent past still haunt people. A city where society has to deal with horrendous crimes. A city where nothing seems honest and true, except an emotionally unstable policewoman and her misfit daughter who wants to know who her father was.