Today is : Tuesday,18th Jan 2022

Hungarian science-fiction films: Four to see, two to watch for

Hunglish writes up some of our favorite Hungarian science-fiction films plus a couple currently in pre- or post-production; the list includes the full-length motion pictures 6:3, Egon & Donci, Henry Waltz, and Thelomeris: City of Time; plus short films Doll No. 639 and Sooner or Later.

Despite a general fascination with the worlds of science-fiction and fantasy, Hungary’s history in mainstream science-fiction was stunted during the socialist era. And unlike the Strugatsky brothers of Soviet Russia or Stanislaw Lem of Poland, Hungary’s top name in the genre at the time, Petér Zsoldos, has been mostly ignored outside the borders.

Things are looking up, though: With more money being funneled into the Hungarian film industry and new ideas being given credence, filmmakers here have produced a number of notable short and full-length science-fiction films. Below are listed a few recent(ish) favorites as well as a couple to look out for in the near future. Enjoy Hungary’s own elseworlds – if you can find ‘em, that is.

● 6:3, avagy játszd újra Tutti (1999). Director Péter Timár is more widely known locally for his 1960s homage Csinibaba (1997) in addition to his early satirical films Egészséges erotika (1985) and Csapd le csacsi (1992), but it’s 6:3 which should have the most appeal among international audiences; unfortunately, English-subtitled versions of this flick are just about impossible to come by.

6:3 is an excellent addition to the sub-subgenre of science-fiction sports movies – unless the whole thing should be more properly pigeonholed under the banner of magical realism. Our hero Tutti is obsessed with Hungary’s fabled “Golden Team” of football lore, the country’s only World Cup finalist to date, and is particular that game still noted as the greatest in Hungarian sports history: On November 25, 1953, this national side went to Wembley Stadium and tore apart Team England in front of 105,000 spectators by the titular score.

Well, there must have been some magic in that old Ferenc Puskas jersey Tutti found, because when he puts it on his back, he gets backward in time – to the days of hardcore Soviet-style socialism and The Match of the Century. Hijinks peppered with a few headchecks on Hungarian history ensue within the shadow of international soccer.

Below runs a scene from the movie in which an enterprising gentlemen decides to suspend disbelief vis-à-vis Tutti’s outlandish tale of time-traveling from the 20th century and make a few bucks based on his new friend’s knowledge of the game. Others present for the conversation complain that Tutti’s dropping spoilers all over the place.

● Doll No. 639 (2005). Winner of best short-film awards at Amsterdam and Nashville film festivals, Doll No. 639 is a perfect example of how 15-minute science-fiction movies should be made: With simple but noticeable special effects, sparse dialogue and surrealistic environment (the intercity rail outside our hero’s windown seems to be infinitely long, for example).

Unfortunately, this excellent bit of film has pretty much been removed from online sources entirely (if you try to play the embed below, it will seize up about two minutes in – and it ain’t your internet connection), but it is downloadable via torrent.

● Sooner or Later (2006). Is this the tightest time-travel flick ever made? In just 11 minutes, director Isti Madarász creates a deceptively complex little incident illustrating the difficulties inherent in tampering with one’s own timeline. Runs the official description: “At the end of World War II, Nazis experiment with time travel hoping to turn the odds in their favor, but things do not go as planned.” Definitely worth at least two views – to figure out WTF just happened…

● Egon & Dönci (2007). Ah, one for the kiddies! The official description appearing on IMDB and elsewhere informs us that “Egon and Dönci are two lonely inhabitants on a distant solar-system’s tiny planetary. Egon is an amateur ‘space-exploratory’ trying to seem very moderate, but his deeds are dogged by constant ill fortune cased mostly by his fumbler cat, Dönci.”

Well, you understand mostly. Nicely free of dialogue beyond a syllable or so at a time, Egon & Dönci gets kudos for imparting some actual knowledge of astronomical phenomena and wonderful computer animation. This is in fact the first full-length animated 3D film to come out of Hungary and remains on of the country’s all-time best cartoons.

● Thelomeris: City of Time (2011). A bit of a mystery here – and Hunglish ain’t talking about the Dark City 2-like events in the trailer below…

Writer/director Balazs Hatvani began work on this project about a futuristic city driven by slave labor in 2008; by 2010, Mark Hamill (he of Star Wars and the Batman animated series) had come onboard to play a supporting role plus serve as “creative consultant” in the film. When it appeared as though all pre-production was finished and the film was set for release … nothing. Very damn close to nothing, anyway, as the film’s official website and IMDB entry came down in 2011 while the Thelomeris Facebook page is a virtual ghost town at this point.

So is there hope for this promising-looking flick of doom ‘n’ gloom? Quite possibly. Reportedly, Hatvani’s newest project, the comedy-horror Tim Curry vehicle Gingerclown, will see wide release and that film’s distributor, Lions Gate, also owns the rights to Thelomeris. Fingers crossed, then.

● Henry Waltz (in production). Finally, there’s Henry Waltz, an adventurous (if underfunded) movie based in a world of fantastical flying machines in a distinctly Terry Gilliamesque universe – you know, if the Python had used computer animation to craft his oddity. The official site promises that director Emil Goodman’s flick is “coming soon” with no further details; in the meantime, Goodman has helpfully put onto YouTube a handful of instructive “making of” shorts that detail certain techniques used in creating the world of Waltz.

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