'Moscow Square' generation splits from Communist past

With Bela Tarr’s “The Turin Horse” not ready in time for Cannes, the Croisette turns its attention to a younger crop of Hungarian directors this year. Their films further emphasize the generation gap between the helmers who got their start during Communism and those who have come since, with the latter group increasingly finding recognition on the fest circuit, though still no real audience at home.

This year’s Hungarian competition title “Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project” by Kornel Mundruczo is the helmer’s third Cannes-bound outing. He took the town by storm with his divisive Joan of Arc opera “Johanna” in 2005’s Un Certain Regard lineup before graduating to competition with 2008’s “Delta.”

Agnes Kocsis, whose soph feature “Adrienn Pal” screens in Un Certain Regard, first wowed Cannes auds with her offbeat mother-and-daughter tale “Fresh Air” at the 2006 Critics’ Week.

Two additional films from emerging directors played in Cannes sidebars in 2006: Gyorgy Palfi’s outre national portrait “Taxidermia” and Szabolcs Hajdu’s complex sports drama “White Palms.” Their latest pics have since premiered at other major fests, with Hajdu’s sex slavery drama “Bibliotheque Pascal” also screening as a market title in Cannes.

This year’s Hungarian filmmakers in Cannes (not to mention Hajdu, Palfi and a few others) are part of a new batch of helmers born in the 1970s who made their first feature in the last decade. Having lived their entire adult lives after the fall of the wall in 1989, they have no need for the encoded socio-political commentary and signature long takes that put Magyar cinema on the map.

They could be described as the “Moscow Square” generation, after the 2001 debut film by Ferenc Torok, another young director who captured attitudes toward growing up in a country that radically changed in 1989, while still maintaining a number of the old traditions.

Many of Hungary’s old masters are still working: Miklos Jancso’s latest, the political allegory “So Much for Justice!” premiered locally in February, and Istvan Szabo is prepping “The Door” with Helen Mirren. But it is the work of the “Moscow Square” set that will have to lead the way in reinvigorating Hungarian cinema, and their presence at Cannes and other fests signals recognition.

“What unites them is that they tell stories about their own worlds in their own unique style,” notes film critic Geza Csakvari. “They are now respected filmmakers, but this love does not translate into strong audience figures at home.”

“Connecting with audiences will be key,” says Gabor Osvath, a producers on “Here I Am,” a Hungarian short in this year’s Cannes Cinefondation (which has shown early shorts by Kocsis and Mundruczo in the past). “It will be another couple of years before directors connect with local audiences the way Jancso and the others did back in the day.”

But Osvath remains positive: “Palfi and Kocsis are among the directors (who) could change local attitudes toward homegrown films, while new talents like ‘Here I Am’s’ Balint Szimler will be making their feature debuts soon. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot about them in the future.”

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