Creative Filmmaking as an Emergency Exit

Viktória Petrányi and Kornél Mundruczó. a producer and a director. Beyond question one of the most successful, most influential and most outstanding filmmakers in contemporary Hungarian cinema. Their recent collaboration on the Cannes prize-winning White God has become a major hit not only across Europe, but also in the United States.

All beautiful friendships have a beginning worth revisiting. Viktória and Kornél met and started talking, and then kept talking until they became close friends. Today, they’re the masterminds behind some of Europe’s most controversial art house films.

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It all began at the university of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest in 1998 and, as they say, the rest is history. Their friendship wasn’t just about talking and brainstorming: the two friends made a number of short films at the university and shortly became frequent guests at the Cannes Film Festival. They built their careers together, “climbing the ladder” in a way most filmmakers can only dream of, from the smallest recognitions to great hits. “At that time we both were at a major turning point in our lives: I was leaving behind a life in theatre and opening up to filmmaking, while Viktória was fed up with the Liberal Arts way of sitting and thinking. We were a kind of emergency exit for each other, a kind of remedy.”, says Mundruczó recalling the early days of their careers. In order to achieve complete artistic independence, they started their own production company. They call it an “island” for creative people. “Today Proton Cinema is a collective of the energies and ideas of our colleagues who we handpicked ten years ago.”, adds Petrányi. “Together we can produce very different pieces of art with a similar vision.”

The pieces they were working on together soon caught the eye of the organizers of Europe’s most acclaimed film festival. And Cannes gave them all it could offer: screening opportunities, networking support, recognition… With the help of the Cannes community, Kornél Mundruczó and Viktória Petrányi became one of the most significant personalities of contemporary European cinema. But their success had many uncommon, unorthodox twists: they began their “Cannes experience” at the independent section Directors’ Fortnight with a short film (Joan of Arc of the Night Bus) originally part of an anthology film (A Bus Came…).

A couple of years later, Little Apocrypha no. 2, the second part of the series, earned Mundruczó a selection at Cinéfondation, making him the program’s first Hungarian participant. Little Apocrypha no. 2 was basically a pre-study for Delta, which was then developed during Cinéfondation’s feature residence and made it to the competition program. During these years, the full-length opera interpretation of their very first Cannes-contestant short film, Joan of Arc, also got invited to Cannes.

Their latest feature film, White God, won the main prize at un Certain Regard and was subsequently selected for Sundance Film Festival. Mundruczó’s apocalyptic dystopia became an art house box office hit in Hungary as well as abroad, and not only in Europe: no Hungarian film has ever achieved such success in America. The film premiered in the US last March, and is still on in the theaters of over 30 cities around the country. Critics keep raving about it being “unusual, upsetting, unforgettable cinema” and “a powerful, pure-cinema reminder” or its portrayal of “the unusual, the unique, the human experience”. Beyond doubt, at this point White God is the most important item of Hungary’s cultural export.

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Behind all this stellar success stands producer Viktória Petrányi. She’s managed Proton Cinema since day one. Petrányi calls her relationship with Mundruczó a “table tennis game of intellects for artistic purposes”. Mundruczó is a very dynamic creator – he has the highest standards which his collaborators have to internalize. But his passions need balancing – a solid ground to bounce from. Mundruczó and Petrányi share an office in their labyrinth-like HQs in downtown Budapest, where they imagine, write and develop together. “Our relationship has changed and grown so much throughout the years! A lot of things about us were immediately obvious, but our interde- pendence and symbiosis came only later. It’s now been 16 years since we’ve been working together, we have our respective families and children, and I never feel we’re growing apart just because we don’t spend every waking minute of our lives together anymore. Certainly not when we still find ourselves having artistic quarrels in the middle of the night…” – muses Petrányi.

If we look at the repertoire of Proton Cinema, it’s clearly no longer about Mundruczó’s work alone. In the past years, most of Proton’s productions made it to Cannes, while Land of Storms found success at the Berlinale and For Some Inexplicable Reason at Karlovy Vary. Their dedication and commitment to quality make their collective eligible for the world’s biggest festivals. They’re currently developing Gábor Reisz’s (For Some Inexplicable…) new feature at the Résidence Program of the Cannes Film Festival, as well as trying to distribute a very unconventional experimental movie by the Buharov brothers. These works stem from the artistic vision Mundruczó and Petrányi share. They’re also working on the next Mundruczó piece together – watch out for Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice, a play which Mundruczó has previously adapted for the stage with huge international success.

by Anita Libor

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