An excerpt from the booklet essay by John Cunningham

There is a story (relayed by Hungarian film director István Szabó) that a group of French filmmakers, making a documentary about the centenary of film in 1995, interviewed President Francois Mitterrand who said that ‘…if he thought of what a film was, he thought of the laughing face of a girl. The girl is circling around in the seat of a village fair carousel, next to her there is a peasant boy in the other seat, they fly, they soar, sometimes they can touch, sometimes they get separated but the girl keeps on laughing and this laugh is unforgettable …for him this was the essence of film’. Surprisingly, he couldn’t remember the title, the director’s name or the country where it was made. Nevertheless, this image stayed with him. Any Hungarian could have told him this was Zoltán Fábri’s Merry-Go-Round (Körhinta), probably – still – among the nation’s favourite films and the girl was Mari Törőcsik, one of Hungary’s best loved film actresses, who sadly died only a few months before these lines were written in April 2021.

Today Zoltán Fábri is not as well-known outside Hungary as he ought to be. For a time he was one of the most prominent of Hungarian directors, being particularly popular in France. Born in 1917 in Budapest, Fábri originally studied art and was an accomplished painter. Late he moved into theatre working as a set designer. He worked on his first film in 1951, Colony Underground (Gyarmat a föld allat) as part of a bizarre socialist realist ‘collective directorship’. Unsurprisingly, the final film was a disaster, being at one and the same a time a classic example of socialist realism (i.e. it was utterly tedious and unwatchable) and a perfect illustration of what happens when there are too many hands on the creative tiller. His next two films, Storm (Vihar, 1952), Fourteen Lives Were Saved (Éjletjel!, 1954) with him in sole charge, concerned a collective farm harvest threatened with ruination by a flood and the second told the story of a mining disaster in Hungary where a group of miners, trapped underground, are rescued. Although clearly made within the parameters and restrictions of socialist realism, both films are handled with skill and Fourteen Lives… in particular shows the trapped miners as real people with all their complexities facing up to a terrible ordeal and, in the process, sparing us many of the hackneyed clichés of the time.

By early 1956, socialist realism was seriously on the wane and with Stalin dead (in 1953), there was growing urge for change, in all aspects of Hungarian society, represented most of all in Hungary by the popularity of the reformer Imre Nagy which was only matched by the growing unpopularity of the Stalinist hack, General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mátyás Rákosi. The Hungarian title of Fourteen Lives…, Éjletjel translates as ‘Signs of life’ and could be considered as a rough metaphor for what was happening in wider Hungarian society. New films were being made, casting off the stifling norms of socialist realism, new ideas were emerging about how society must change and embrace more openness and more democracy. It was a time to rethink what was happening in Hungary and there was a sense of the need for change. Merry-Go-Round was to play its part in the drama that unfolded.

John Cunningham's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Hungary, 1955
Merry-Go-Round: 96 minutes
Special features: 42 mins
Sound: 2.0 Mono LPCM (48k/16-bit)
Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Language: Hungarian
Subtitles: English

Blu-ray: BD50
1080 / 24fps
Region ABC (Region Free)

Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 27 May 2024


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