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The Witness
A tanú
dir. Péter Bacsó / Hungary 1969 / 105’
subtitles: Polish and English
Golden Era of Hungarian Cinema


Ferenc Kállai, Lajos Öze, Béla Both, Zoltán Fábri, Lili Monori

Film description

A legendary political satire, blocked for a decade by communist censors. The film is set at the turn of the 1940s and 1950s. A guard of the Danube anti-flood dykes, Józef Pelikán, father of eight, is arrested for slaughtering a pig he kept illegally. Soon, he draws the attention of comrade Virág, who is ready for anything to involve Pelikán in the communist nomenclature. But each employment offer turns out to be a disaster, disclosing absurdities of the communist reality and the main character's misadaptation to a career of an apparatchik. But Pelikán will soon face a more serious challenge: being a witness at a political trial against his former friend.

Péter Bacsó's film uses a form of comedy to present some of the darkest years of Hungary's latest history: the communist regime of Mátyás Rákosi. Despite the humour, surreal jokes and atmosphere, the director managed to convey a serious analysis of totalitarianism, which was so powerful due to fear, setting neighbours against each other, denunciations, and to people's powerlessness in confrontation with authorities. In this world only more or less conscious manifestation of ideological ignorance turned out to be the best way to keep one's reason - and sometimes one's life as well.

Rafał Syska

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