Karoly Makk, Acclaimed Hungarian Filmmaker, Dies at 91


When “Love” (“Szerelem” in Hungarian) was released in the United States in 1973, Vincent Canby of The Times ranked it among the year’s 10 best movies. (Among the others were François Truffaut’s “Day for Night” and George Lucas’s “American Graffiti.”)

Reviewing the film for The Guardian, Derek Malcolm wrote, “The passages between the anxious old lady and her fraught but outwardly calm daughter-in-law in the stuffy little bedroom piled with mementos are brilliantly intricate, achieved with a still reflective force that is quite exceptional.”

Lili Darvas, the Hungarian-born actress who played the old woman, was 68 and living in New York when “Love” was filmed, but Mr. Makk was concerned about whether she could play her much older character.

“I asked, ‘What do you want, an old lady or an actress?’ ” Ms. Darvas recalled to The Times.

One morning during the shooting, she said, Mr. Makk and a cameraman gathered around her. “How did you sleep?” they asked her. “I said, ‘Fine.’ They were disgusted. The director said: ‘I knew it, there was the most beautiful wrinkle around your eye yesterday and now it’s gone. Please, please try not to sleep at all.’ ”

Photo

Lili Darvas as the mother-in-law in Karoly Makk’s 1971 film “Love.”

Credit
Ajay, via Photofest

Ms. Darvas and Mari Torocski, who played the daughter-in-law, received special mentions at Cannes for their roles in “Love.”

“Cats’ Play” (1975) told the story of two sisters looking back on their lives, mostly through the exchange of letters. Reviewing it in The Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas wrote, “Makk’s quick cuts of tinted footage — like an ancient family album come to life — are almost subliminal” and “another way of approximating memory.”

The film lost the Palme d’or, the highest honor at Cannes, to Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” and the Oscar for best foreign-language film went to Federico Fellini’s “Amarcord.”

Six of Mr. Makk’s films were nominated for the Palme d’or. None were winners.

Mr. Makk was born on Dec. 22, 1925, in Berettyoujfalu, in eastern Hungary, where his parents owned a movie theater, providing him with an early cinematic education.

He was later an assistant on an experimental expressionist film and worked for a newsreel studio, where a disagreement with his manager led to a six-month banishment to a farm, according to the book “The Cinema of Central Europe” (2004), edited by Peter Hames.

Mr. Makk subsequently assisted the director Felix Mariassy on short films and co-directed a few features before he directed “Liliomfi” (1955) on his own.

Among his other films were “A Very Moral Night” (1977), a fantasy set in a brothel; “Another Way” (1982), about a lesbian affair between journalists after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian revolution in 1956; and “Lily in Love,” an English-language movie, released in Hungary in 1984 and in the United States a year later, about an incorrigible aging actor, played by Christopher Plummer.

In 1997 Mr. Makk released “The Gambler,” which follows Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Michael Gambon) as he furiously tries to finish a semi-autobiographical novel about his gambling addiction and love life while being interrupted by various crises. One of its stars was Luise Rainer, who won the Oscar for best actress in 1937 and 1938 but had largely shunned the big screen since.

Ms. Rainer had been persuaded by her friends and fellow actors Roddy McDowall and Anthony Hopkins to consider playing the Russian dowager in “The Gambler,” but she had to brush off Mr. Makk’s questions about whether she was still able to perform in her late 80s.

“Karoly Makk was dear, but worried I may forget my lines, and could I still act, he asked me,” Ms. Rainer, who died in 2014 at 104, was quoted as saying in Leo Verswijver’s book “Movies Were Always Magical” (2003). “It made me laugh.”

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