Film critics play a pivotal role in shaping the perceptions and understanding of cinematic works for the audience. They not only review films but also navigate the broader currents of public life and the film industry, infusing their observations with deeper insights about society and culture.
In Hungary, one such critic who never shies away from voicing his opinions is Gellért Kovács, who regularly expresses his viewpoints both online and at organised film clubs, not just about movies, but also the larger framework of Hungarian filmmaking.
In our recent conversation with him, we delved into his perspectives on the current state of Hungarian cinema and his thoughts on the intricacies of the film industry in Hungary:
BPR – Is there a sense of purpose in being a film critic in Hungary today?
G. Kovács – I have no idea if what I’m doing makes sense. However, I can tell you that my work prompts reactions. For some people, my thoughts about films matter. With the changing media consumption habits, cinema holds a different meaning than it did years ago, but it still remains one of the most popular forms of entertainment.
What I can achieve in this country is to make people curious about my opinion, and I’ve accomplished that. To what extent this influences viewers, I don’t know. Critics have never caused a film to flop, but audiences have turned films that critics deemed unwatchable into successes. Ultimately, the decision always belongs to the viewers.
As a film critic, I believe it’s not our primary task to dissuade or persuade someone to watch a film. Depending on a critic’s style and mood, suggestions for or against viewing a film may appear, but fundamentally, a critic’s job is to engage in joint contemplation and provide interpretations.
With all that said, I believe that in Hungary, not just film, but culture in general is in danger as authentic elements of cultural life are being replaced. It’s truly challenging to create visible, valuable, and successful things here. No one, especially not the government, is interested in making that happen. They have no interest in fostering a vibrant cultural life in Hungary, because vibrant culture encourages thinking, which, I believe, is currently seen as dangerous.
BPR – How much of your popularity do you credit to the fact that you don’t exclusively write about movies, but your everyday experiences, and even politics?
G. Kovács – I’ve thought a lot about it when the number of followers on my page started to increase dramatically a few months back, because it happened organically. I just wrote the posts and published them as usual, and things just took off. I had already written for VOX long ago, and there were the film clubs too. Essentially, I was doing everything I do now. I concluded that my involvement in public life probably plays a role in my popularity.
I think this characterises what’s going on in Hungary more than anything else. People are more bitter, it’s harder to find honest opinions or friendly voices. Without listing my good qualities, I think I am friendly, for example, which may also be apparent from my posts. I’m not easily offended either, and I really like to debate and chat. I feel this is a kind of community work I do. And I dare to undertake it because nobody forces anything on me, those are my thoughts that can be read there, and it’s not my duty to decide if they are valuable or not. The readers get to decide that.
I really couldn’t do it any other way. I haven’t changed, I feel like the world has changed around me, and people probably sympathise with those on a mission, like me. I might be a good writer too.
BPR – As a critic, what do you believe your role is in the Hungarian film industry?
G. Kovács – Honestly, I don’t have a clear idea about my role. I also don’t know what role I could potentially fill. I don’t see a system connected to film culture in Hungary. I’m unsure about the impact of my posts, articles, and comments within professional film circles.
Occasionally, I get some feedback on my reviews from the creators themselves. Mostly, the people I speak with seem to care deeply about the importance of films, not necessarily only my reviews but also those from other journalists who approach films with similar enthusiasm. As for the impact of my work on viewers and readers, I only have fragmented impressions.
Of course, I see reactions, comments, and I speak with people at film clubs. But I can’t provide a concise answer because it’s an instinctual process for me, just like when I was 6 or 8 years old. The difference now is that I’m an adult and my livelihood depends on it, rather than simply sharing my love of movies with friends and family.
BPR – Does an incident like the one that happened at the Hungarian Motion Picture Festival affect your motivation to continue your mission?
G. Kovács – When Géza Csákvári told me what happened in Veszprém, I simply did what came to my mind. They wanted to publicly beat up a colleague of mine, and I thought everyone should know about it. I waited till the evening to give time to the organisers to admit that what happened was unacceptable. It’s been weeks, but no reaction so far. That’s why I think we’ll make a petition very soon, demanding public apology from the National Film Institute of Hungary.
In practically half a day, they showed us the dramaturgy of their whole “cultural policy”. From the moment someone wanted to beat up someone, to the moment till that someone was awarded multiple times for his work on Hungary’s latest Oscar nominated film the next day. Barely 24 hours later, without anyone asking him what happened yesterday. I think this is quite expressive. This is beyond just being scary. If this basic moral code is not valid for any segment of a society, then there is a really, really big problem.
So essentially this was a silent legitimisation of what Ádám Tősér, the director of Blockade did. Apparently, you can do this in this country. It’s okay. Not at a random pub, but at an official NFI event. The fact that there is no accountability is what I find truly appalling and hair-raising.
Ádám Tősér is obviously not a very talented filmmaker, who graduated as a director ages ago and has not been able to present anything valuable since then. He is a contract director, whose creative vanity is laughable. But even if he were Darren Aronofsky or anyone else, he shouldn’t be able to do what he did, and I find it frightening that this is not as clear as it should be.
BPR – What do you consider to be fundamentally wrong with the Hungarian film industry that contributes to these kinds of issues?
G. Kovács – The trap we are in culturally and politically in this country is that the Film Institute, and all organisations related to power, base their communication on operating censorship and trying to channel Hungarian cinema into a certain taste, while acting like they were not doing this, but supporting projects on a democratic and artistic basis.
What’s truly happening right now is that there are still a few films running out of the previous cycles, when things were a bit different. Most of the films that we say are great now and have something to do with the Film Institute are films like “Larry” or “Wild Roots”. But they are running out of these films. There are still two or three that will be released this season, but that’s it.
It would have been exciting if the Film Institute could have kept its promise of bringing some different approach into Hungarian cinema. At the moment, this different approach is only manifested in that only buddies can make films, and I think within a year, even “amateur” moviegoers will see that these people are quite talentless, which is the biggest problem with this system.
The people who are in charge should support films that are more exciting both professionally and humanely. We have filmmakers who make their films with Slovak, French and all kinds of other funds, because the Film Institute has thrown their ideas back. We already have one proof for this theory, sadly, because Flóra Anna Buda‘s animated short titled 27 was made exactly according to this model. She submitted her plan to the Film Institute two or three times, and they threw it back every single time. She made it from French money, and she received Palme d’Or for it.
BPR – Is there still hope for a more ideal filmmaking system in the country?
G. Kovács – I see a chance for super good films to be made with really low budget, which will either be Hungarian films, with the Film Institute having nothing to do with them, or they won’t be Hungarian films, because their financing will be made up entirely of foreign support. And then we will stand here with talented people, who cannot make films in their homeland.
It’s clear that the more talented and daring filmmakers would rather look for opportunities on international productions in Hungary instead, which we have plenty of. Naturally, this is more difficult, as you need connections, or at least some luck, but everyone sees that working with the NFI is a dead-end.