Close Up

7 - 30 July 2023: Close-Up on István Szabó


Along with Miklós Jancsó and Béla Tarr, the Budapest-born István Szabó is perhaps one of the best-known Hungarian film directors. However, unlike the two other masters, Szabó's films have been largely unavailable to audiences. This retrospective curated by Ehsan Khoshbakht, covers the most creative and exuberant period of Szabó’s cinema, from his first feature made in 1964 to his first post-Communist era work. His films, unparalleled in Central European film history for their richness, unravel the conflicts of history, society, and the individual in a dazzlingly audacious yet personal manner. Thanks to a restoration project initiated by the National Film Institute of Hungary, we’re proud to present 9 of his films for the first time in the UK in new 2K restorations.


Age of Daydreaming
István Szabó, 1964, 105 min

Budapest, mid-1960s. A group of young engineers who have just graduated spend their holidays at Lake Balaton, between the lightness of youth and the anticipation of adult life. One of them, Jancsi, finds a job as a sound engineer. As he strives to develop new technologies, he soon comes up against older colleagues and clerks, who are entrenched in their own habits and mediocrity. His fellow students, with whom he spent so much time, are now far away, and the death of one of them also disrupts their sense of friendship. Someone else, though, has entered Jancsi’s life: Éva, a young lawyer passionate about human rights whom he saw on TV one day.


István Szabó, 1966, 98 min

Set in Hungary in the years following the end of WW2, a young boy concocts a fantasy ideal of his father who has been killed in the war. In the boy's fertile imagination, the father attains mythical and heroic qualities. Szabó's poignant cinematic ode, combining humour with a poetic nostalgia, relates historical events through the prism of personal experience, producing a film of extraordinary warmth, intimacy and power. Chosen by Hungarian critics and writers as one of the best Hungarian films of all time, Father also boasts luminous monochrome cinematography by the great Sándor Sára.


István Szabó, 1970, 134 min

A boy travels to France to meet the great love of his youth, Kata, who left Hungary after the 1956 Revolution. A highly poetic early masterpiece by István Szabó, describing the undefined and unspoken nature of love and politics. 


25 Fireman's Street
István Szabó, 1973, 98 min

István Szabó's agile camera is an uninvited guest peeking into the private and collective memories of the residents of an apartment building in Budapest that is due to be demolished the next day. A milestone in film history for its intricate narrative and free-form imagery, 25 Fireman's Street was partly inspired by Szabó's discovery of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. Each image can be seen as a metaphor of something larger, but perhaps, more rewardingly, as a photographic representation of a poetic probe which, at first, seems impossible to decipher but gradually allows for a pattern of thoughts to emerge in which history and personal memory of Hungarians fully complement each other.


István Szabó, 1979, 117 min

This powerful Oscar-nominated feature explores complex questions of love, trust, loyalty and betrayal. In WW2 Hungary, hard-bitten resistance fighter János and naive young mother Kata are thrown together in an attempt to escape the Nazis. Compelled to pose as husband and wife, they are forced into a strange intimacy. Terrified of discovery, the couple are wary of all those around them, and even of each other. As their individual loyalties are challenged, their relationship begins to change – calling into question the emotional certainties of their normal lives, and forcing them to re-assess who they really trust.


István Szabó, 1981, 144 min

In his adaptation of Klaus Mann’s novel, István Szabó gives a fictionalized account of the rise to stardom of the actor Gustav Gründgens, perhaps the most famous “Staatsschauspieler” (State actor) of Nazi Germany. Hendrik Hoefgen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) is a passionate but struggling actor who, despite his political ambivalence, remains in Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime. When he accepts a Nazi official’s offer to make him a star, Hoefgen receives the success and adulation he has long sought – but at what price?


Colonel Redl
István Szabó, 1984, 167 min

Set in the lead up to WWI, Szabó's Cannes Grand Jury-winning Colonel Redl charts the rise of Alfred Redl to head of counter-intelligence of the Austro-Hungarian Army. His hidden homosexuality, however, is used against him by enemies of the state, putting both his professional standing and his country's security in dire straits. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 1985.


István Szabó, 1988, 140 min

In the wake of the Oscar-winning Mephisto and Colonel Redl, Hanussen closes István Szabó’s second trilogy. The plot following the story of Erik Jan Hanussen, a clairvoyant with special psychic powers, spans from the final days of World War One and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy to Hitler coming to power, while revealing Europe’s intellectual trends between the two wars.


Sweet Emma
István Szabó, 1991, 90 min

1989, Budapest: Emma (Johanna Ter Steege) and Böbe (Enikő Börcsök) are Russian teachers living in a hostel and seeking their place in a rapidly evolving world. They don’t have, nor could they have, great expectations, yet they will make a home of it. István Szabó paints a bitter yet accurate picture of the transformation of values and the increasingly prevalent uncertainties concerning the future.