Yesterday marked the passing of one of Hungary’s film greats, when Ferenc Kósa died at the age of 81. Though he had a long and prolific career in film and politics, he is perhaps best known for his film Ten Thousand Days (Tízezer nap), which chronicles the trials of a 1930’s Hungarian peasant family. The film was an international success, winning Kósa the Best Director award at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival despite being temporarily banned in Hungary by the reigning Socialist government, which viewed the film as being critical of their agenda.
Born in 1937 in Nyírigyháza in eastern Hungary, the director had to walk a fine line toiling under the Soviet occupation. As a result, his films were subtly political and drew the ire of the authorities. For example Mission (Küldetés), a biopic of multi-medal pentathlon athlete Andras Balczo, was initially a smash in Hungary, but soon banned due to perceived criticism of the Communist party.
Kósa collaborated on many of his scripts with the acclaimed poet and author Sándor Csoóri and with the cinematographer Sándor Sára, making films such as Ten Thousand Days, Judgment (1970) and 1974’s Snowfall. All in all, Kósa directed thirteen films.
The Hungarian Academy of Arts had this to say about Kósa: "Through his talent and commitment, (Kósa) played a defining role in the renovation of the Hungarian film artistry of the era. Ten Thousand Days belongs by now to the classical assets of not just Hungarian, but universal film history."
Critics lauded the writer/director while he was alive, and Ten Thousand Days still enjoys a following with those who are fans of serious European film. Kinoeast, for instance, had this to say about Ten Thousand Days: “The film is ultimately a brilliant saga of the life of a stubborn peasant at the precipice of fast- changing history in Hungary. Kósa uses water not just as a metaphor of time, but also as the weight of experience and the lack of control an individual possesses,” and sums up the film’s role under the political system: “Even though Kósa’s Tízezer Nap may not have the obvious parallel commentary that a (Miklós) Jancsó film might have, I don’t believe the film was intended to be propaganda for the Socialist movement. Censorship seems to cloud Kósa’s original intent of showing a Hungary that was being lost as Socialism continued where Fascism left off, crushing a lower class that only wanted to climb out of poverty.”
Despite his censorship under the Soviets, Kósa entered politics with the Socialist party after Hungary regained its independence. He served as a representative in Parliament from 1990 to 2006. Ferenc Kósa’s loss will be felt in both the quick changing film and political landscapes.
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