Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Masterpiece Film Series: Korhinta

"Korhinta" **** (out of ****)

"Korhinta" is one of those great films people always talk about but few have actually seen. Its significance in Hungarian cinema is considerable. It was released during a time many Western countries either had a negative view of Hungary or a limited one. "Korhinta", when released in America in 1958, put Hungary on the cinematic map.

The film was directed by Zoltan Fabri. At one time considered one of the great Hungarian directors. A key figure in the Hungarian New Wave of cinema, but, his success would not last long. Once the 1950s came to an end an emergence of younger Hungarian filmmakers erupted. Americans may not recognize the name Fabri but I'd be willing to bet they have heard the names Istvan Szabo, Miklos Jancso and Karoly Makk.

On the surface "Korhinta (Merry-Go-Round)" is really a love story between two peasants, the beautiful Mari (played by Mari Torocsik, in her film debut) and Mate (Imre Soos). But what's underneath the surface is a story of government propaganda. It is a film which makes the case for collective farming. How no man should be able to take care of his own land. It needs to be divided. This adds a bit of a socialist/communist slant to the film, which is understandable since the film was made during the time Hungary was under the control of the Soviet Union. What makes this message odd though is the film was released in Hungary in 1956. The year ended with an uprising in October against the Soviets.

While the politics of the film may seem more interesting to some to discuss lets keep our attention on the love story instead and treat the film as such.

Fabri uses the concept of the "merry-go-round" as a symbol of innocence and youth. When we first see the two lovers ride together they smile and kiss. They have no problems or concerns at that moment but once the ride ends reality must set in. Mari's father, Istvan (Bela Barsi) does not want Mari to associate with the "co-operative" since Istvan has left the group so he alone can attend to his own land. Mate is still a member. Instead Istvan would like his daughter to marry Sandor (Adam Szirtes), who has joined Istvan in leaving the "co-operative".

Events come to a dramatic climax at a celebration, a wedding. Mate has been drinking and seeing Sandor and Mari dance fuels him with jealousy. He asks for a dance and soon scandal starts. The couple are the only two on the dance floor as the band plays on. Everyone just stares at them, while the couple dance in a circle. Like the earlier scene with the "merry-go-round" the camera spins in a circle itself creating chaos. But this circle is no longer one of joy and happiness. Tension, anxiety and sexuality fill the air. Mari is now not only bringing shame to herself but to her family. Mate grabs her tightly and stares at her intensely. It is no longer the happy smiles from before. Now they seem to be in a vicious circle. What was once innocent no longer is so. Fabri then visually makes the connection by cutting to the earlier scene on the amusement park ride and cutting back to the wedding dance.

One of the things which struck at first watching this film was Torocsik's performance. I had never seen much of her earlier work. Only her films in the seventies. At that point, while still attractive, no longer had the beauty others once raved about. Now I see what they meant. She was a beauty. She had a face as pure and innocent as one I have ever seen. Besides her beauty she could also act. While the character doesn't go through much of an emotional range Torocsik still brings us into her character and makes it more than a cliche. When Fabri and Torocsik would work again, two year later, on "Edes Anna" we would see a more complex interpretation of an innocent girl.

Imre Soos on the other hand would not have a lasting impact on cinema. For the times he was well known but sadly this would be his last performance. He committed suicide the following year bringing about an end to what appeared to be a very promising career.

It is hard to find information on the Internet concerning the film. I did however come across a review from the New York Times which bashed the film saying it is nothing fresh. But despite a negative review from the Times the film was nominated for a palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956 and would be considered by many as Fabri's greatest work. It will always have a place in cinema as one of its masterpieces.