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Hungary for Cartoons: Hungarian Animations on MUBI

  MUBI, the film streaming service, have been playing a selection of short Hungarian animations from the Pannonia Studios, the leading exponent of the form in the Eastern European country during the nineteen-seventies and eighties, up to about the end of the Cold War. Here are the eight cartoons that you can see...

Hey, You! - Peter Szoboszlay's short starts with a man running away from a vaguely defined but powerful, laughing force, and the man finds a room to take refuge in. But the paranoia he has experienced affects him badly, and through many variations on the simple concept - a man trapped in a room - the film finds sinister visual ingenuity in conveying the feeling of being in a totalitarian society, which Hungary was at the time, 1976. British viewers would have seen this kind of thing on BBC2 as filler programming in the seventies, but it's just the ticket to stick in the mind as its nightmares prevail. That the man ends up laughing is not reassuring, as he has become what he feared.

Mind the Steps! - A 1989 effort from Istvan Orosz, exquisitely but starkly hand drawn in ink over rotoscoped designs, takes the mundanity of life under the Communists and subjects it to the inescapable space-bending of Dutch artist M.C. Escher, where each everyday activity is tempered by the menaces of the secret police. They are always cropping up to question a citizen or worse, take them away to who knows where, and as the six minutes of animation progress, we feel the claustrophobia of being so controlled and the pointlessness of trying to do anything but keep your head down and carry on in a city where reality has been warped by the dictatorship.

Panic - This was the short that Hungarian audiences would often see before Star Wars in 1978, when it was produced, and as a result became one of the country's most popular homegrown cartoons. It too had a science fiction theme, depicting three space aliens whose previously peaceful existence is interrupted by obvious capitalist from Earth (check out the city plastered with advertising) who abduct them to experiment on their bodies. With unforeseen consequences, naturally, resembling a paper cut out Godzilla movie as the aliens mutate into enormous sizes and wreak their terrible revenge, mostly on the military might sent to stop them. You don't need a politics degree to get director Sandor Reisenbuchler's message here.

Horse in the House - This has something in common with Panic in that Mickey Mouse features in both, here because he is flying a biplane out of a teapot and through a succession of closed doors. Yes, it was surrealism time again, and Mickey's representation of a certain kind of entertainment capitalism as a logo was something adopted by counterculture Smart Alecs across the globe. As for the plot, a bureaucrat is investigating a report of a blue horse on rollerskates seen in the titular house, but his attempts to pin down what it is and what it is doing there grow weirder and weirder until the bureaucrat is actually quite enjoying the giddy pursuit and its colourful, almost comedic imagery. Gyorgyi Csonka directed.

I Like Life a Lot - Telling the stories of the Roma people of Hungary are a group of Roma children, given a voice in 1977 by director Kati Macskassy by animating their autobiographical drawings. While there is the expected naivety in their artwork, there's nothing naïve about the experiences they are being asked to process: the men of the community getting drunk and violent every payday, fathers leaving families when they tire of them, girls married at twelve, and so on. Every so often there is a touch of humour, such as one girl informing us her favourite singer is Demis Roussos, "The religious person", but in the main this is a rather sad little film, where you would like to believe the kids' youthful dreams translated into better lives, but know there's no guarantee.

Scenes with Beans - Back to science fiction, a popular genre in the Soviet Bloc thanks to the possibilities such fantastical premises opened up, and this 1976 item from director Otto Foky was a mainly humorous depiction of an alien planet being observed by a spaceship resembling a chicken. The planet itself is populated by beans, which behave much as humanity does on Earth, and not in a good way, getting into accidents, attacking each other and even starting a riot by the end. It may not have been subtle, but the novelty value was strong, and it did prompt laughter no matter how macabre it became, its keen-eyed view of a Communist society that is not all it is cracked up to be still resonant now.

Gobble-Gobble - If it's not Mickey Mouse representing the West and capitalism, it's Coca-Cola, and a bottle of that soft drink is seen here to sum up its main character's obsession with eating and drinking as much as possible. Obviously a satire on consumerism, it gets its jabs in at regular intervals, packing so much eating incident into one six minute experience that it feels like more, stuffing its face with its sardonic take on one man driven to consume at all costs - and that includes the cost of the entire universe. Featuring the fat man growing to vast size the more he eats (his clothes grow too!), it also has off-colour gags that would not have passed muster in the West, but here hit home. Istvan Banyai directed in 1978.

Nights in the Boulevard - The earliest of the cartoons in this selection, from 1972, you can if nothing else see how far the Hungarian techniques advanced throughout this era, for this is a lot cruder in execution than its later brethren. Showing a poet making his way through the nightlife of the city until his work is accepted by a publisher, we drop in on various characters socialising, represented by expressionistic paintings and drawings and on the soundtrack, recorded vox pops, just snippets, that don't really pick up on any continuity of conversation. Also on that soundtrack, some popular Hungarian songs, as the poet heads from artistic melancholy to ultimate contentment, so at least director Gyorgyi Kovasznai was willing to give us a happy ending.

[Click here to visit the MUBI site.]
Author: Graeme Clark.


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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018