Obituary: Zoltan Fabri

George Gomori
Monday 05 September 1994 23:02

Zoltan Fabri, film and stage director, stage designer and artist: born Budapest 15 October 1917; married 1947 Noemi Apor; died Budapest 23 August 1994.

ZOLTAN FABRI was one of the best film directors of post-Second- World-War Hungary. Although after the 1960s his work did not bring much innovation into cinematography, his work in the mid- Fifties was of great artistic value.

Fabri was born and educated in Budapest and his first interest was in painting; from 1935 to 1938 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. He changed course in 1938 when he enrolled in the Academy of Film and Drama to become a stage director. From 1941 he was a member of the Hungarian National Theatre where apart from directing he also designed stage sets and acted in plays. Between 1945 and 1950 he staged plays in a number of Budapest theatres, including the Artists' Theatre and the National Theatre; from 1946 he also became Director of the new Pioneers' Theatre (Uttoro Szinhaz). Fabri's career as a film director took off in the 'socialist realist' 1950s when he first worked as artistic director in the Hunnia Film Studio, to become film director in 1952.

His first film, Gyarmat a fold alatt ('Underground Colony', 1952), was a typical product of the nationalised and propaganda- laden Hungarian film industry of its time - it dealt with the alleged Western sabotage of Hungarian oil production. In 1954, however, Fabri scored his first international success. His Eletjel ('Fourteen Lives Saved'), the dramatic account of a mine disaster, scripted by Tibor Tardos, was awarded the Prize of Labour at the 1954 Karlovy Vary Film Festival. This film was praised for its psychological insight and skilful technical solutions by such directors as Mark Donskoi and Alberto Cavalcanti.

The next film shot by Fabri, Korhinta ('Merry-Go-Round', 1955), was called by the critic Istvan Nemeskurty 20 years later 'one of the finest works in the history of the Hungarian cinema'. It is the story of a farmer's daughter who falls in love with a young man working in a farmers' co-operative. The farmer, still attached to his own land, tries to force his will on his daughter by choosing her future husband; the young girl resists and the conflict is resolved with her victory; in the end the old farmer also joins the co-operative. This somewhat schematic plot is handled by Fabri brilliantly: the lovers' meeting at the merry-go- round, and the peasant wedding, are presented in fast-moving montages with memorable incidental music. Mari Torocsik and Imre Soos excelled in the leading roles.

Fabri followed this with Hannibal tanar ur ('Professor Hannibal', 1956), which looked at the hapless individual caught in the storm of collective frenzy - in this case extreme nationalism - in the 1920s. The film won the 1957 Grand Prix at Karlovy Vary.

In later years Fabri adapted a number of modern Hungarian novels to the screen. Of these, which included Kosztolanyi's Edes Anna ('Anna', 1958) and a partial adaptation of Dery's long novel 141 perc a Befejezetlen mondatbol ('141 Minutes from the Unfinished Sentence', 1974), the most popular was A Pal utcai fiuk ('The Boys of Paul Street, 1968'), a co-production with a cast of young English actors, based on Ferenc Molnar's delightful novel. It was nominated for an Oscar.

Fabri often returned to the Second World War as a source of scripts and this resulted in films such as Ket felido a pokolban (played in Britain under the title The Last Goal, 1961), Isten hozta, ornagy ur] ('The Toth Family', 1969), based on Istvan Orkeny's play, and Az otodik pecset ('The Fifth Seal', 1975), based on Ferenc Santa's novel. The latter film won the Grand Prix at the Moscow Film Festival of 1977. Another film of Fabri's which was awarded an international prize was Rekviem ('Requiem', 1982) which gave Fabri the Silver Bear Award in West Berlin.

In the 1970s Fabri taught at the Budapest Academy of Film and Drama. After his retirement from film-making in 1984 he took up painting once again and had several exhibitions. He won the Kossuth Prize three times (1953, 1955, 1970), the SZOT Prize in 1975, and in 1986 a special prize for his life's work. From 1958 to 1981 he was President of the Hungarian Cinematographers' and Television Artists' Association.

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