Gábor Gelencsér: Forgatott könyvek. A magyar film és az irodalom kapcsolata 1945 és 1995 között

Gábor Gelencsér: Forgatott könyvek. A magyar film és az irodalom kapcsolata 1945 és 1995 között

Budapest: Kijárat Kiadó – Kosztolányi Dezső Kávéház Kulturális Alapítvány, 2015, ISBN 9786155160479. 564 p.

Adrián Bene
Gábor Bódy; Tibor Déry; Zoltán Fábri; Péter Gothár; Zoltán Huszárik; Miklós Jancsó; László Krasznahorkai; Béla Tarr; Hungary; film adaptation; intermediality; socialist realism; modernism; nouvelle vague; postmodernism.

Gábor Gelencsér’s latest book on the Hungarian book-to-film adaptations Forgatott könyvek. A magyar film és az irodalom kapcsolata 1945 és 1995 között [“Books on Screen. Hungarian Cinema and Literature between 1945 and 1995”] introduces the reader to the ideological and artistic diversity of Hungarian cinema production between 1945 and 1995. In that period, Hungary produced 800 feature films, one third of which – more than 200 – were based on literary fiction. Most of these adaptations – 200 films by 70 directors – are examined in the book. Gelencsér’s monograph focuses primarily on two aspects of these adaptations: their cultural, representative function, and the formal innovation that occurred in the films over the course of these five decades. Gelencsér has studied this particular topic for years, has published several articles (mainly in the journal Filmvilág), and has held courses at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest as associate professor of the Department of Film Studies. This is his fifth book in film studies since 2002. Its broad historical scope and attempt at a conclusive chronology is fleshed out with analyses of adaptations based on such Hungarian writers as Zsigmond Móricz, Tibor Déry, Iván Mándy, Miklós Mészöly, and László Krasznahorkai. Gelencsér focuses on intermedial transformations in certain adaptations, examining developments relating to perspective, narrative structure, and metaphoric semantics, as in the case of Déry or Mándy. In the appendix, the author provides the reader with an exhaustive list of Hungarian adaptation in chronological order.

Through his investigation of this one particular topic, the adaptation form, Gelencsér conveys a chronicle of the entire extent of Hungarian film production during the half-century being addressed. He first distinguishes historical and contemporary book-to-film adaptations, taking into account their political and ideological intentions. Then he divides the fifty years of Hungarian cinema between 1945 and 1995 into seven periods, highlighting the ideological as well as the formal traits of the studied adaptations as they develop over these time frames.

After the Second World War, between 1945 and 1948, there was a short democratic period in Hungary, before the establishment of Communist hegemony. From 1948 to 1953, the official aesthetics of socialist realism regarded cinema as political propaganda. During these two periods the adaptations did not only serve political aims, but also held a strong cultural function: namely, the popularisation of classic Hungarian literature.

After these periods, the cinematic language of the adaptations began to exhibit some formal innovation. From 1954 to 1962, the intensity of political surveillance in cinema decreased, some innovative non-realistic aesthetics were permitted. This trend is obvious in the cinema of such directors as Zoltán Fábri and Károly Makk, which depicts mainly either the sociographic themes of the semi-feudal past (before 1945) or contemporary rural problems. This is the most detailed chapter of the first half of the book. Although the presence of adaptations in the Hungarian film scene diminished in the 1960s, a significant number of films in the Hungarian ‘nouvelle vague’ (1963-1969) were also based on literature, just think, for instance, of Miklós Jancsó’s Oldás és kötés / Cantata (1963, Hungarian People’s Republic) and the adaptations by Pál Zolnay (Próféta voltál, szívem / You Were a Prophet, My Dear, 1968, Hungarian People’s Republic), Fábri (Húsz óra / Twenty Hours, 1965, Hungarian People’s Republic; Utószezon / Late Season, 1966, Hungarian People’s Republic), and András Kovács (Hideg napok / Cold Days, 1966, Hungarian People’s Republic). Generational issues and social changes appear through nonlinear, subjective, often multiperspectival narratives, showing the progression of modernism.

The cinema of the 1970s gradually lost its function of representing social problems, whilst subjectivity and artistic autonomy became more and more central with respect to both visual and narrative features. In the field of adaptations, the most noteworthy ones are Károly Makk’s Szerelem / Love (1971, Hungarian People’s Republic) based on a short story of Déry and Macskajáték / Catsplay (1974, Hungarian People’s Republic) based on the writing of István Örkény as well as Zoltán Huszárik’s Szindbád / Sinbad (1971, Hungarian People’s Republic) based on the short stories of Gyula Krúdy. At the same time, the documentarist movement also emerged in the Budapest School, although it rarely adapted literary works, with the notable exception of Koportos (1980, Hungarian People’s Republic) by Lívia Gyarmathy (based on the novel of József Balázs). A new generational mood also became evident in many adaptations, conveyed either through realist or modernist methods. Finally, in addition to mainstream cinema there was also an alternative, neo-avantgarde cinema, which sometimes created book-to-film adaptations as well, such as Dezső Magyar’s Agitátorok / The Agitators (1969, Hungarian People’s Republic), Gábor Bódy’s Amerikai anzix / American Torso (1975, Hungarian People’s Republic), and Miklós Erdély’s Verzió / Version (1979/1981, Hungarian People’s Republic). Of these films, the first and the third were banned by the socialist censors.

The final phase addressed by Gelencsér includes the sixth and seventh historical periods: the transition (from 1979 to 1986) and the years following the fall of communism (1987–1995), during which time political and poetic reflection on the change of regime occupied the foreground. In the 1980s, despite the textual turn in Hungarian postmodern literature, Hungarian cinema remained within conventional psychological and social thematics and modernist narrative structures, with the exception of some experimental films like Bódy’s Nárcisz és Psyché / Narcissus and Psyche (1980, Hungarian People’s Republic) (adaptation of Sándor Weöres’ work), and his Kutya éji dala / Dog’s Night Song (1983, Hungarian People’s Republic), based on the Vilmos Csaplár’s short story, as well as Péter Gothár’s Idő van / Time (1985, Hungarian People’s Republic) and Tiszta Amerika / Pure America (1987, Hungarian People’s Republic), both based on Péter Esterházy’s postmodern texts. The main political-historical topic in this era was the trauma of Stalinism and the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. These themes appear in such adaptations as András Kovács’s Ménesgazda / The Stud Farm (1978, Hungarian People’s Republic), Pál Gábor’s Angi Vera (1979, Hungarian People’s Republic) and Kettévált mennyezet (1981, Hungarian People’s Republic), Makk’s Egymásra nézve / Another Way (1982, Hungarian People’s Republic), Pál Sándor’s Szerencsés Dániel / Daniel Takes a Train (1982, Hungarian People’s Republic), and Gyula Maár’s Malom a pokolban (1986, Hungarian People’s Republic). The most successful collaboration in the field of artistic adaptation was that of Béla Tarr and Krasznahorkai, which began with the famous 450 minutes long Sátántangó / Satan’s Tango in 1994 (Hungary).

Among the detailed analyses in the second half of the book is a study of the montage techniques and symbolic-allegorical realism of István Gaál’s Magasiskola (1970, Hungarian People’s Republic) (based on a short story of Mészöly), which reflects the commitment to objectivity characteristic of the ‘nouveau roman’.

Exhaustive study is given to Sátántangó, reflecting on the dilemma of its late-modern, or postmodern, aesthetics. According to Gelencsér, instead of postmodern irony, Tarr creates a universal tragic worldview from an omniscient narrator’s perspective, in contrast to the rather homodiegetic, cyclical narrative structure of the novel. The intermedial transformations concerning temporal simultaneity, perspective, and focalisation are analysed by Gelencsér through the conceptual frame of Gérard Genette’s classical narratology.

Gothár’s adaptations, such as the above mentioned Idő van / Time and Tiszta Amerika / Pure America as well as A részleg (1994, Hungary), show such postmodern features as self-reflexivity, allusions, meta-narration, multi-perspective and non-linear narrative, non-realist representation, and irony. These intermedial differences are less important in the study of Sándor Sára’s cinema after the fall of communism, in which the historic-poetical reflection and the place of his oeuvre in film history are in focus.

Thus, the book is a valuable contribution to Hungarian film history as well as film adaptation studies, investigating several examples of transmedial transfer and intermedial changes. Its complex method unfolds both the historical and the aesthetic significance of book-to-film adaptations from 1945 to1995 in Hungary.

Adrián Bene

University of Pécs, Hungary



Bódy, Gábor 1975. Amerikai anzix / American Torso. Balázs Béla Stúdió.

Bódy, Gábor 1980. Nárcisz és Psyché / Narcissus and Psyche. Balázs Béla Stúdió.

Bódy, Gábor 1983. Kutya éji dala / Dog’s Night Song. Balázs Béla Stúdió.

Erdély, Miklós 1979/1981. Verzió / Version. Balázs Béla Stúdió.

Fábri, Zoltán 1965. Húsz óra / Twenty Hours. MAFILM 1. Játékfilmstúdió.

Fábri, Zoltán 1966. Utószezon / Late Season. MAFILM 1. Játékfilmstúdió.

Gaál, István 1970. Magasiskola. MAFILM 4. Játékfilmstúdió.

Gábor, Pál 1979. Angi Vera. MAFILM Objektív Stúdió.

Gábor, Pál 1981. Kettévált mennyezet. Budapest Filmstúdió.

Gothár, Péter 1985. Idő van / Time. MAFILM Hunnia Stúdió.

Gothár, Péter 1987. Tiszta Amerika / Pure America. Young Cinem a Tokyo; MAFILM Hunnia Stúdió; MOKÉP; Hungarofilm.

Gothár, Péter 1994. A részleg. Hunnia Filmstúdió; Magyar Televízió Drámai Stúdiója.

Gyarmathy, Lívia 1984. Koportos. MAFILM Hunnia Stúdió.

Huszárik, Zoltán 1971. Szindbád /Sinbad. MAFILM 1. Játékfilmstúdió.

Jancsó, Miklós 1963. Oldás és kötés / Cantata. Budapest Filmstúdió.

Kovács, András 1966. Hideg napok / Cold Days. MAFILM 1. Játékfilmstúdió.

Kovács, András 1978. A ménesgazda / The Stud Farm. MAFILM Objektív Stúdió; Dialóg Stúdió.

Maár, Gyula 1986. Malom a pokolban. MAFILM Hunnia Stúdió.

Magyar, Dezső 1969. Agitátorok / Agitators. Balázs Béla Stúdió.

Makk, Károly 1971. Szerelem / Love. MAFILM 1. Játékfilmstúdió.

Makk, Károly 1974. Macskajáték / Catsplay. Hunnia Játékfilmstúdió Vállalat.

Makk, Károly 1982. Egymásra nézve / Another Way. MAFILM Dialóg Stúdió.

Sándor, Pál 1982. Szerencsés Dániel / Daniel Takes a Train. MAFILM Hunnia Stúdió.

Tarr, Béla 1994. Sátántangó / Satan’s Tango. Mozgókép Innovációs Társulás és Alapítvány; Von Vietinghoff Filmproduktion; Vega Film; Magyar Televízió; Télévision Suisse-Romande

Zolnay, Pál. 1968. Próféta voltál, szívem / You Were a Prophet, My Dear. MAFILM 2. Játékfilmstúdió.

Suggested Citation

Bene, Adrián. 2017. Review: “Gábor Gelencsér. Forgatott könyvek. A magyar film és az irodalom kapcsolata 1945 és 1995 között.” Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 4. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2017.0004.41

URL: http://www.apparatusjournal.net/

Copyright: The text of this article has been published under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ This license does not apply to the media referenced in the article, which are subject to the individual rights owner's terms.


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