Every year, the enthusiasts of European films look forward to November when, for long years past, the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) is held. This year – as for similar events – the screenings are held virtually, which, however, gives an opportunity for everyone Canada-wide to view the entered films. This year, the organizers selected a film from each EU country and, again, there is one from Hungary: Attila Szász’s Apró Mesék (Tall Tales) is presented for the first time to a Canadian audience. The director gave an interview to the Kanadai Magyarság.
The Canadian premiere of his new film will be in the middle of November, as part of the EUFF. Although the festival has to be presented virtually due to the pandemic but, perhaps, this way many more people can see the film. With what expectations do you look forward to the Toronto festival?
It is with great pleasure to acquaint the Toronto public with the Tall Tales. Our earlier films were also able to be shown as part of the EUFF. It is a source of great pride when our film represents Hungary. The Ambassador to Bern (A berni követ), Demimonde (Félvilág) and Eternal Winter (Örök tél) was shown at these festivals. We were happy to be asked. It is a unique circumstance that, unlike the previous physical viewings, it is now accessible virtually but, perhaps, it means that it will reach more viewers for which we are glad. I hope this film will be as warmly received as the earlier ones.
Tall Tales is a romantic thriller. It certainly is unique on the Hungarian market where the majority of the cinema movies are comedies.
I like those films that are exceedingly difficult to categorize as they can fall into several genres. As this is a love story, we desperately wanted to retain the ‘romantic’ aspect. At the same time, as we neared the end, the film’s mood became darker, the basic genre of a thriller. In a nutshell, the story is about a con man who makes his living after World War Two by answering personal ads posted by persons looking for their relatives. Our protagonist replies to these ads and pretends to know the missing person, giving false hope, while hoping to get money or lodgings in return. One time, he must flee and, in the depth of a forest, he meets a woman and her child and he tells them a story of her husband, whose return is expected. The viewer suspects that the husband will show up, which happens. And there begins a gripping cat and mouse game. Our antagonist trips up in his own lies, finding himself in the husband’s dark game and the only question is: who will end up alive? We followed the Hitchcockian tradition with the storyline and the film’s mood. Experience shows that thrillers and romances are genres that draw viewers, and that is why we chose the ‘romantic thriller’ definition. In fact, a romantic historical thriller as it takes place in 1945. At first glance, it is a paradox, the genre is thriller, but it is also a romantic story with many romantic scenes.
Your earlier film, Eternal Winter, addressed the subject of malenki robot, a topic not previously addressed by other Hungarian films. How was the process of coming up with a script for a film covering such a serious topic and a national tragedy?
That film has a factual basis. We took as our central character the mother of János Havasi. The romantic thread, how she was taken away, how she returned, those are all authentic components. Norbi had to read the recollections of an awful lot of survivors until he could create, in his head, the typical tendencies in those camps that are always present. He created the fictional characters and situations from those. However, everything in the script happened to somebody, somewhere. We had to decide how deep to delve into and show the horrors, the course of the story. It was a depressing period, especially for Norbi, who had to read about it all, to imagine himself in those situations, and write the script. For me, my work was easier; I started work with a completed script, which we put into its final version together. Yes, it truly is the first Hungarian fictional film to cover the topic as there have been a great number of documentaries made. We hade no idea it its impact. It turned out later that almost every third family was affected in some way. An unspoken trauma on a national level. At screenings and audience sessions, family stories began to pour out.
Most probably, it is thanks to that that Eternal Winter entered into public awareness, which is perhaps the most a director can hope for, that his film travels the country, the world. I see that it is still very much in the public’s awareness, the significance of the film’s topic still keeps cropping up. I recently read that it broke through the wall of silence more significantly than any other thesis, conference or professional dissertation. It was only later that we realized the tremendous responsibility we took on our shoulders and are glad we could rise to it. At foreign festival screenings, we became aware first-hand how this dark episode of our region is unknown outside of Eastern Europe. Everybody has heard of the Holocaust, almost nobody of malenki robot.
Occasionally, the question arises in the media: when will a film, like Eternal Winter, be made that addresses Trianon. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the peace treaty, it would be very topical.
Three years ago, we thought that our next film will deal with the topic of Trianon, and it could have been finished for 2020, the anniversary. There is still no consensus on the very sensitive subject, especially in Hungary and the surrounding region. We would have liked to do a film about a fencer, an actual person who won at the first Olympics after Trianon – and against a Frenchman. The message was going to show how Hungary regained its self-esteem – we could show it through an athlete, which was, on top of it, a historical success story. The script was finished but neither the former Film Foundation (Filmalap) nor the current National Film Institute (Filmintézet) were inclined to support it. I don’t know if it will ever be made. I have great faith in the story and hope it will someday be made into a film.
The film will be available on the Festival’s website, just in Canada from November 28 for 48 hours.
Click here for the full interview
(Balazs Csibi, translated by Peter Csermely)