Hungary’s Thriving Film Culture Facilitated Director Eva Gardos’ ‘Budapest Noir’

Crime drama used dark corners of Hungary's capital to create unique post-World War II atmosphere

Eva Gardos Directed 'Budapest Noir' in
Courtesy of Marton ZSichla

Hungary has become a hotbed of movie production, with Hollywood taking advantage of the strong exchange rate, and the country’s capacity to convincingly double for other parts of the world. As a result, Hungarian artisans have been spread across big-budget projects such as “Blade Runner 2049” and the upcoming “Red Sparrow,” as well as local films that are produced through the Hungarian Film Fund.

But a rising tide lifts all ships and Hungarian artists have not been left behind. Homegrown filmmakers like Eva Gardos are getting enticing projects made that stand an excellent chance of emerging with a worldwide impact.

Gardos’ new film, “Budapest Noir,” is based on an international best-selling novel, and tracks a crime reporter investigating the mysterious death of a woman, with deceit, femme fatales and murder lurking around every shadowy corner.

“I’m a film noir fan in general,” says Gardos. “I read the book and was immediately hooked by the characters and the chance to work within this milieu. I instantly thought this should be a movie.”

Gardos adds that she “wanted to make a film that allowed Budapest to become an integral character.”

She notes that Budapest is often used a stand-in for other cities, but that in her new film “it’s a major element. We initially did some black and white tests, but I decided to shoot in color because I wanted to show off the vibrancy of the city. We did a combination of on-location and soundstage shooting.”

She left Hungary as a child with her family, and as an adult, Gardos found work in Hollywood, serving as a production assistant on “Apocalypse Now” before becoming an editor on “Barfly,” “Mask,” “Valley Girl” and “Bastard Out of Carolina.” Her directorial debut, 2001’s “An American Rhapsody” starring Scarlett Johansson, was based on the true-life events of Gardos’ family and their escape from Communist Hungary in the 1950s.

Now that she’s back in her home country making movies, the circle feels complete. “Making films in Hungary is very comparable to working in Hollywood,” Gardos says. “Hungarian technicians are well-versed in how to work on large productions, and they can easily bounce back and forth between local films and when Hollywood comes to town. There are some extremely exciting Hungarian filmmakers working right now, like Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”) and Krisztina Goda (“Home Guards”).”

Like other filmmakers, Gardos seeks out that balance of artistic expression and commercial appeal. “I made a personal film for a wide audience and it’s going to do very well in Hungary,” she says, adding that she “worked for a year on the screenplay adaption with Andras Szeker.”

Gardos notes that “the role of the director, writer and producer is the same in Hungary as it is in America, and it was a great collaborative process. Thankfully, the Hungarian Film Fund selected us for financing.”

The film fund essentially operates like a studio. It accepts pitches and screenplays, and after its committee meets, they approve who will receive funding.

Gardos is currently working on multiple projects, including “Cindy in Iraq,” which details a female truck driver working as a contractor, and “More Was Lost by Eleanor Perenyi,” a Hungary-set love story told against the backdrop of WWII.

“Budapest Noir” premiered in North America earlier this month at the Chicago Film Festival and will screen at the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival in January. The film has also been chosen as the closing night selection at the 17th annual Hungarian Film Festival, which takes place at the Laemmle Theatres in Santa Monica on Nov. 16.

“Budapest Noir” will be released in Hungary on Nov. 2, and the film will be screening at the American Film Market in Santa Monica the same month in hopes of landing an international distributor.