Carpathian Mountain People through the Lens of István Szőts
Why We Recommend it
Hailed as a herald of Italian Neorealism, the Venice Biennale Award-winning film was created by a 29-year-old Hungarian director who fearlessly led a crew of seven to capture actual inhabitants of the harsh Transylvania’s Carpathian Mountains in 1942.
In the mountains dwell Gergely, his wife Anna and their son Gergo who revere all that nature offers them. Like Gergely, many mountain people make their living by sheep rearing and woodcutting. Their lives are never easy on such extreme terrains. Following the birth of Gergo, Gergely and Anna take and introduce their baby to the trees, fishes and villagers, as if asking for the earth’s blessings.
Yet the mountain people are stripped of their land by the timber industry who then cajoles and coerces Gergely into working away from the mountains. Things go on a downward spiral, Anna is raped and their home is burnt down. Gergely then takes Anna and Gergo on a pilgrimage that ends in death. The director is most concerned with human resilience in the face of trauma and adversity, and how the mountain people seek peaceful coexistence with their surroundings.
People of the Mountains received an award at the 1942 Venice Film Festival. The emotional power of its images left an impression on many European directors of the time. It was believed that it left an example for Italian Neorealism and directors such as De Sica and Visconti. In 2000, People of the Mountains was selected as one of the greatest 12 films of Hungarian cinema. One of the reasons is that it preserves the way of life that even the older generation wasn’t aware of.
More crucially is the film’s exploration of nationalist identities. Hungary underwent drastic territorial changes in the interwar period. Following WWI the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled. Transylvania, long considered to be Hungarian, was handed over to the newly independent state of Romania. The Carpathian Mountains featured in this film were part of this contested region but it was returned to Hungarian rule in 1940, following the Hungarian coalition with the Nazis. Szőts shooting the film there in 1942 was a homecoming of sorts.
The Hungarian film is supplemented with Chinese and English subtitles. The screenings are companioned by seminars with Winnie Fu, Timmy Chen and Winnie Fu in Cantonese.