The glory days of the Hungarian cinema from the mid 1960s until the mid-70s was mainly due to the relative liberalization of the communist regime under the Soviet loyalist János Kádár. Károly Makk, who has died at the age of 91 years, was among the leading Hungarian directors such as Miklós Jancsó, Márta Mészáros, István Szabó, Zoltán factory manufact and István Gaál whose films were starting to be shown and acclaimed more and more in the west.
Due to problems with the censorship in the previous, Stalinist puppet regime, Makk, who had been making movies since 1955, had to wait until 1971 to gain international recognition with his masterpiece entitled simply, Love. “I asked every year for six years for the permission to do so. The political elite finally gave in because it was part of a rejection of the Stalin era.”
The love tells the story of Luca (Mari Törőcsik), a young Hungarian woman whose husband is in jail after being arrested by Stalin’s secret police in a trumped up political charge. Left to take care of his old and dying mother-in-law (the renowned theatre actor Lili Darvas), wrote letters purporting to come from America telling of the son’s brilliant success as a film producer in Hollywood and reads to the old lady. If the mother-in-law, believes that the letters are left deliberately ambiguous, as is the truth of his extravagant memories of a Viennese childhood.
Lili Darvas, to the left, and Mari Törőcsik in Love. Photo: Rex/Shutterstock
An exquisitely wrought film about love, lies (political and personal) and the illusion, which won the jury prize at Cannes, won special mentions for the performances of Darvas and Törőcsik and led to Makk eclectic career in Hungary and abroad, including the best foreign film Oscar nomination for the Cat’s Play (1974). However, his 1982 movie about a lesbian romance, otherwise, was initially appointed by Hungary for the Oscars, but was later withdrawn by order of Kádár.
Makk was born in the town of Berettyóújfalu, in eastern Hungary, where his father, Kálmán, the property of a film, that he gave his son the opportunity to see many films. His parents, like many Hungarians had lost their businesses after the country was under the Soviet regime, initially destined to become an engineer, a profession in common on his mother’s side of the family. In its place, came the nationalization of the film industry, working his way from assistant to screenwriter and director.
His eventual success with Love allowed her to make a Cat Game. It speaks of an elderly widower music teacher (Margit Dajka), who lives in Budapest, which focused her life on her rich but crippled sister in Germany, with which it is communicating by letter and by phone, and in your old love, a former opera singer, who comes to dinner every Thursday night. When a woman from the past appears, the balance and the security of its existence are very disturbed. As in Love, Makk focuses on the mechanisms of survival of the old. Poignant and sentimental, beautifully photographed by János Tóth, effectively uses flashbacks (as in the previous film) to summon the of the heroin, the memories of youth.
Michael Gambon and Polly Walker in The Player. Photo: Rex/Shutterstock
A Very Moral Night (1977) is set in a small Hungarian town in the early 20th century, where a young student, he frequents the local brothel. Finally, it moves, and share a chaste bed with one of the young women. When his puritan mother back to visit him, the madame, and the young women, to foster their assumption that the brothel is a guest house. Despite the fact that the old-fashioned way, and not the comic potential, however, is a lovely photograph, again by Töth, and acted.
Looking at a part of Makk’s filmography, it seems that he was comfortable living in the bittersweet romantic world of Hungary’s most famous playwright, Ferenc Molnár. His connection with Molnár extended to Darvas, the playwright’s widow, who was the co-leader in Love. Makk is also adapted Molnár previously filmed The Guard, a Hungarian-US co-production that renamed as Lily in Love (1984), starring Christopher Plummer and Maggie Smith. Other international productions, as Makk said Deadly Game (Die Jäger, 1982, in German, starring Helmut Berger and Barbara Sukova; and The Player (1997), adapted from Dostoevsky, in English, with Michael Gambon, Jodhi May and Luise Rainer, back, the 86-year-old, in his last film.
Most of these commercial productions received mixed reviews, but Makk reputation was sustained by Another Way – about a lesbian love story between two reporters after the Hungarian uprising of 1956, with the attempted murder of one by her husband and the death of the other.
Based on the semi-autobiographical bestseller by Makk’s co-writer Erzsébet Galgóczi, the film is politically brave and touching and intelligent argument in favor of tolerance. The two Polish takes (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak and Grażyna Szapołowska), as the doomed lovers, give insightful performances, with the former winning the best actress award at Cannes.
Makk the best films that show how living under the state oppression, affects the fidelity, the love and the faith, and how traces of humanity persist in such difficult circumstances.
Makk married three times, and is survived by his daughter, Lily.
• Károly Makk, film director, born December 22, 1925; died August 30, 2017