Emberek a havason (People of the Mountains) — Best Pictures of 1942 (#7)

When you think of prolific moviemaking countries,Hungaryisn’t usually the first to pop in our minds. Cinematic powerhouses like theUnited States, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Japan, Italy, and Germany, sure, but Hungary? It’s a shame that Hungaryisn’t better recognized as a founding country of film art. Hungarian artists pioneered movies from their earliest days and recognized the artistic and intellectual possibilities of the medium well before the French or Americans (or at least concurrently). They may have been the first to translate their nations’ classic novels and plays into films.

It is from this tradition that István Szöts’ magnificent People of the Mountains came into being. Despite the Hungarian government’s alliance with Nazi Germany and strictures against anything but light, escapist fare, Szöts managed to get this anti-capitalist morality play produced and screened, even going on to win a prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Szöts introduces us to a quiet mountain community stuck in many ways in the nineteenth century, carrying all the burdens of life without modern conveniences but supported by a strong community. Life can be hard, but satisfying all the same until the destructive forces of unchecked capitalism encroach on their community, culture, and families. At first the promises of good jobs and high wages at a new lumber mill seems the answer to all their problems. Good wages will mean they won’t have to struggle so hard to survive, or so they think. Their once idyllic mountain community turns into an industrial nightmare. No one knows who among their once trusted neighbors they can turn to as everyone scrambles to get what they can, while they can. Eventually, the fractured community becomes vulnerable and its people are driven from their ancestral lands by the very forces they once looked on with such hope.

An Italian film journal later cited People of the Alps as an early model for post-war Italian Neorealism. Szöts shot the film in the mountains of Transylvania, using mostly non-professional actors and his narrative follows a non-traditional structure. The result is a grittily realistic foray into the lives of people filmmakers generally ignore: the rural poor. Szöts depicts these people with dignity and respect, something filmmakers, when they have turned their lenses on the rural poor, have had a bad track record with (just think of the recent independent darling Winter’s Bone, which is mind-bogglingly admired despite its clear disdain for most of its characters and their community).

This is a tough film to find. As far as I know there hasn’t been any U.S.video or DVD releases. It was once uploaded onto You Tube, but it has since been removed. If anyone has any hints on where I and others who haven’t had the chance to see People of the Mountains yet, please enlighten us. It is well worth seeking out, not just to rediscover this film, but as a step to begin exploring Hungary’s rich film history.

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7 Comments

Filed under 1942, Yearly Best Pictures

7 responses to “Emberek a havason (People of the Mountains) — Best Pictures of 1942 (#7)

  1. I haven’t seen this one, Jason, but the good news is that it has been released on DVD in region 1, under the title ‘Men on the Mountain’, though it looks to be quite expensive new – there are secondhand copies available more cheaply, though. Here is a link to the details.

    http://www.amazon.com/Men-Mountain-J%C3%B3zsef-Bihari/dp/B000JMK6T4

    I’m intrigued by your comments on this one and will hope to see it in the future.

    • Judy, sorry I haven’t responded faster, but I was out of town the last few days. Thanks for directing my attention to this DVD. I guess I wasn’t able to find it because there are so many English translations of Emberek a havason, but Men of the Mountains is not one I’ve seen before. I may have to break down and pick this one up.

  2. I quite agree with Judy here, in that I have not seen the film but would dearly love to ASAP. Thrilled to see this nice-looking release is out there with decent prices on marketplace. Jason you got me on this one, as I’ve never had an inkling to track it down. I just now sent an e mail to Allan, who I also believe has not seen it. The thrill of discovery is incomparable and you have wed this great find with a beautiful review. I’ll certainly be returning here.

    • Wow, I’m a little stunned that you haven’t seen this one. I always assume that you and Allan have seen just about everything there is, so for me to turn you on to something new. It’s usually the other way around!

      Thanks for the kind words as always. And, like I said in my response to Judy, I wasn’t able to respond sooner because I spent the last few days up in Napa Valley and San Francisco. But no fear. I’m back now. 🙂

  3. gombasz

    A stunningly beautiful film. The Hungarian title reads: Men on the Mountain. It is not People of the Mountains.

    • Yes it is stunningly beautiful. And thanks for the correction about the title. In everything I’ve read about the movie I couldn’t find a consensus on the translation. As I remember there are about three or four variations of the title I found, so I just picked the one I liked the best.

  4. gombasz

    Jozsef Nyiro was a Transylvanian author who wrote about the common people of the countryside. His stories are the basis for the film.

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