Nationality: Hungarian. Born: Salgótarján, 25 August 1933. Education: Academy of Theatre and Film Art, Budapest, graduated 1959; studied at Centro Sperimentale, Rome, 1959–61. Career: Director and cameraman for Hungarian Newsreel Dept, 1961; directed first feature, 1964; director for Hungarian TV, from 1977.
Films as Director:
Pályamunkások (Surfacemen; Railroaders) (+ sc, ed) (short)
Etude (+ sc, ed) (short)
Tisza—öszi vázlatok (Tisza—Autumn Sketches) (+ sc, ed) (short); Oda—vissza (To and Fro) (+ sc, ed) (short)
Sodrásban (The Stream; Current) (+ sc, ed)
Zöldár (Green Flood; The Green Years) (+ ed, co-sc)
Krónika (The Chronicle) (+ sc, ed, ph) (short); Keresztelö (Christening Party) (+ sc, ed)
Tiz éves Kuba (Cuba's Ten Years) (+ sc, ed, ph) (short)
Bartók Béla: az éjszaka zenéje (Béla Bartók: The Music of the Night; The Night Music) (+ sc, ed) (short); Magasiskola (The Falcons) (+ sc, ed)
Holt vidék (The Dead Country) (+ co-sc, ed)
Legato (Ties) (+ co-sc, ed); Naponta két vonat (Two Trainsa Day) (+ sc, ed) (for TV); Vámhatár (Customs Frontier) (+ ed) (for TV)
Cserepek (Buffer Zone) (+ sc, ed)
Orfeusz es Eurydike (+ sc)
Cigányok (Gypsies) (Sára) (ed, ph) (short)
Férfiarckép (Portrait of a Man) (Gyöngyössy) (co-ph) (short)
Vizkereszet (Twelfth Night) (Sára) (co-sc) (short)
By GAÁL: articles—
"Un Réalisateur hongrois," interview with J. Camerlain, in Séquences (Paris), January 1973.
Interview in Cinema Canada (Montreal), April/May 1973.
"Interviewing István Gaál," in Hungarofilm Bulletin (Budapest), no. 4, 1977.
"A Challenge and a Trial of Strength," an interview in HungarofilmBulletin (Budapest), no. 5, 1983.
Gaál, István, "Rendezoi vazlatok az Orfeuszhoz," in Filmkultura (Budapest), January 1986.
"Trambulin," an interview with K. Fejes, in Filmkultura (Budapest), October-December 1993.
Gaál, István, "Henri 'de la Cinémathèque,"' in Positif (Paris), July-August 1995.
On GAÁL: books—
Petrie, Graham, History Must Answer to Man, London, 1978.
Nemeskurty, Istvan, A Short History of the Hungarian Cinema, New York, 1980.
On GAÁL: articles—
Petrie, Graham, "István Gaál and The Falcons," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1974.
Martin, M., and Y. Biro, "István Gaál, de Remous à Paysage mort: itinéraire d'un témoin," in Ecran (Paris), March 1974.
"István Gaál," in Film Dope (London), September 1979.
Predal, René, "István Gaál: les remous de la quarantaine," in JeuneCinéma (Paris), October 1981.
Pörös, G., in Filmkultura (Budapest), May/June 1984.
* * *
The artistic personality of the film editor, cameraman, scriptwriter, and director István Gaál was formed by his study at the Higher School of Theatrical and Film Art in Budapest, where he arrived as a young electrical engineer determined to devote himself to the art of film. Here he shaped and precisely defined his artistic viewpoint in a classroom that is already legendary today as the meeting place of later notable personalities in Hungarian cinematography—Judit Elek, Pál Gábor, Imre Gyöngössy, Zoltán Huszarik, Ferenc Kardos, Zsolt Kérdi-Kovács, János Rózsa, István Szabó, Sándor Sára, Ferenc Kósa, and others. Gaál took his first, already conspicuous step in a creative workshop, the experimental studio of Béla Balázs. The artistic path he chose was a difficult one, because it was the specific, individual form of documentary. In the course of his creative career he returns constantly to this basic source, but at the same time he applies its elements in his not very extensive but masterfully suggestive artistic film work. Gaál is one of the founders of the Hungarian new wave of the mid-1960s, which he inaugurated with Sodrásban, his deeply emotive debut. Not only did this work reflect the positive social events of the time, but the author also applied genuine elements of a subjectively motivated poetics. With every important subsequent film—and these are for the most part adaptations of his own literary work—Gaál reveals the strange world of the Hungarian countryside, a world of desolation and unromantically flat landscapes with scattered, lonely settings where solitary tree trunks, well-beams, and the whitewashed walls of old buildings occasionally loom. In this microcosm he uncovers human community, relationships, and problems of morality. In intimate episodes he manages to take up and treat delicate problems of the past and generalize them in the form of a profound philosophical drama that reveals the roots of violence and evil and the dangerous elements of apathy and indifference, despair and loneliness. At the same time, his films, with their limited dialogue and almost totally graphic conception, are poetic pictures that have dramatic tension. However, István Gaál is not the romantic poet of the countryside he may appear to be. In a brief moment and in simple fashion he suggests the atmosphere and the relationships among characters, and he is equally adept at capturing the essence of a hunting lodge in the wilderness, a depopulated village, or the smell of a provincial town. For him the environment is merely a symbolic medium, because each of his works offers a kind of parallel between the world of nature and human society, a metaphor with deep ideological and moral significance.
There is a close union of all artistic components in films under his direction—a carefully constructed script, a poetic form of screen photography, simple non-illustrative music, and dramatically motivated editing, along with prodigious acting by the noted performers whom the director gets to "shed their theatrical skin," enabling them to achieve quite a remarkable degree of expression before the camera.
In the intervals between making his fictional film works, Gaál constantly returns to the pure documentary, which is for him a starting point and perhaps also an experimental station. But he shapes his documentaries with the same fire and originality. Here again, there is an alteration between people and nature, and a struggle between the two.
In his most recent films, Gaál turns more to the inner world of his contemporaries. His works delineate masterful psychological portraits in which there is more and more reflection of history on a general plane. His films are personal, poetically veiled confessions about present-day people, their problems and their relations.