Portrait: István Szabó - Who Believes that Actors are the Most Important

Istvan Szabo

The name of István Szabó, the only Hungarian film director to be awarded an Oscar, is again resonating in the world of cinema. This comes as no surprise considering that his latest piece of work entitled Sunshine has already attracted a series of distinguished film awards. Audience success can be almost taken for granted, because the film stars Ralph Fiennes, who has found his way into cinemagoers' hearts since his role in The English Patient. István Szabó was born in Budapest in 1938 and after finishing secondary school he continued studies at the College of Theatre and Film. He started his career as a director with short feature films and achieved his first success with Age of Illusions in 1964, a film interspersed with autobiographical elements, about the torturous path of losing youth and becoming an adult. After Father, Love Film, Budapest Tales and Confidence, the international film world recognised him with an Oscar, the most distinguished award, for his film Mephisto. The film's main character is Höfgen, the actor, who tries to maintain his security during the nazi era by suppressing his doubts and restraining his better self. In addition to feature films, Szabó has directed operas and TV films. He is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Science and of several film institutions.

SunshineHis latest work, Sunchine, features Ralph Fiennes playing the male character in the story of three generations of a Jewish family. István Szabó has been preparing for this film for five years, shooting began in 1998 and lasted for 21 weeks, with Lajos Koltai, Szabó's permanent colleague for the last 20 years, standing behind the camera. Ralph Fiennes considered the role as a special challenge, as he had to play three different characters. Before doing his impersenation of members of the Sonnenschein family, he had taken fencing classes, learnt singing Hungarian love songs, got introduced to Hungarian kitchen and walked the streets of Budapest night and day. Sunshine was made in Canadian-German-Austrian cooperation, it was shot in Hungary with a Hungarian crew. The film is currently playing in most European countries, and Ralph Fiennes has been nominated by the European Academy of Film for best actor. István Szabó and Israel Horovitz have received an award for best screenplay and Lajos Koltai received the award for best cinematographer in Berlin. Sunshine has been nominated for as many as 14 film academy awards in Canada. And what is the reason behind all the succes? It is probably partly the fact that not only those watching the big screen had an excellent time, but shooting this film made all the film-makers and actors happy, as well. They had a wonderful time at the shots, because it is good to work with István Szabó. He does not set the actors for the camera, but works with techniques that best suit the actors' demands. He says that actors are always the most important for him. It is only possible to make a good film if actors feel comfortable in their roles, radiating spirited and deep-felt emotions rather than planned-out sensations. That is how a film can become a delightful experience. For the time being, István Szabó has no plans for a new feature film. He will start shooting again when he feels that the audience would consider some of his new ideas important.

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