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Father (1966)

Posted on the 25 May 2016 by Christopher Saunders

Father (1966)

"Only weaklings keep making up stories!"

Istvan Szabo's second feature, Father (1966) established him as a leading light of Hungarian cinema. The film loosely resembles Italian neorealism, showing a defeated nation coming to terms with the past. But Szabo's imaginative trappings provide a deeper allegorical resonance.
Young Tako Bence (Dani Erdelyi as a boy, Andras Balint as an adult) loses his father (Miklos Gabor) in early 1945. He reimagines his father, a mild-mannered doctor, as an heroic Resistance fighter who saved Jews while foiling Nazi invaders. Tako maintains his illusions even into adulthood, proving central to his personality. Eventually, Tako realizes he must forge his own identity - but he must uncover his father's first.
Father mixes grim neorealism (postwar poverty interspersed with stock footage) and French New Wave-style fourth wall breaking. Tako's fantasies range from flickering memories to full-scale action, his Father dodging fascist bullets or rescuing a tramcar full of Jews. Sandor Sara's breathless camera captures the spinning delirium of a school dance or a long take capturing Tako's dash through a revolution-scarred street.
Juxtaposing the grim and fantastical provides Father its meat. Hungary rode the maelstrom of 20th Century upheaval: Admiral Horthy's reactionaries, Arrow Cross fascists, Soviet-imposed Communism. It's only natural that Tako's fantasies match a country. Tako's Catholic school becomes a state-run school; his girlfriend Anni (Kati Solyom) struggles with her Judaism. Tako even imagines a Communist rally where his father's portrait watches over Budapest.
Neither affirming epic nor tale of disillusionment, Father offers ambiguity. Tako's role in the 1956 rising proves as farcical as his participation in a WWII film, switching from Jew to Nazi at the director's whim. His father's friends offer vague, unhelpful answers which he spins into grandiose anecdotes. Father closes with a scene both hilarious and haunting, with Tako undertaking a "heroic" achievement matched by dozens of others.
Andras Balint provides Father's anchor with a performance of brooding, focused humor. His child counterpart, Dani Erdelyi, is engaging enough to carry the early scenes. Kati Solyom gets a show-stopping monolog recounting her family's Holocaust experiences. Miklos Gabor is an endearing figure sporting Harold Lloyd glasses, leather overcoat and boundless energy.
Istvan Szabo explores Hungary's torn, tortured identity in several films: 25 Firehouse Street, Confidence, Colonel Redl and Sunshine among them. Any nation's heritage mixes facts with fantasy, especially such a troubled one. Whatever debt Father owes to De Sica or Rossellini, Szabo's eccentric approach stands on its own.

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