István Szabó

Hungary, 1981


The German actor Hendrik Hofgen is driven by immense ambition and by his obsession for power and fame. Struggling to advance his acting career, the self-absorbed Hendrik is unconscionable. He marries the rich Barbara Bruckner, who is the daughter of an eminent politician, and moves to Berlin. His brilliant performance as Mephisto in Faust draws the attention and admiration of the Nazi party’s Prime Minister. Preoccupied with his stage career, Hendrik doesn’t realize his level of commitment to and compliance with the Nazi regime. The General, who is paving the way for Hendrik, appoints him head of the State Theatre. Though his wife leaves, he chooses to remain in Germany much to his friend’s disbelief whose wish is to rescue him. In his life Hendrik, rather than being Mephisto, he is Faust. He has entered into blind agreement with the devil. Fear grasps him, for the first time, as he is found exposed in an enormous stadium, the new, under construction Nazi theatre.


István Szabó

István Szabó (born February 18, 1938) is a Hungarian film director, screenwriter, and opera director. Szabó is the most internationally acclaimed Hungarian filmmaker since the late 1960s. Working in the tradition of European auteurs, he has made films that address the political and psychological conflicts, evident in Central Europe’s recent history. He made his first short film in 1959 as a student at the Hungarian Academy of Theatrical and Cinematic Arts, and his first feature film in 1964.

He achieved great international success with Mephisto (1981), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Since then, most of Szabó’s films have been international co-productions filmed in a variety of languages and European locations. He has continued, however, to make films in Hungarian, and often used Hungary and Hungarian human capital in his international co-productions. Szabó became involved in national controversy in 2006 when Life and Literature, a Hungarian newspaper, revealed him as an informant of Communist secret police.

Born in Budapest, Szabó was the son of Mária (née Vita) and István Szabó. The latter was a doctor coming from a long line of doctors. Szabó came from a family of Jews who had converted to Catholicism, but were considered Jews by the Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazis). The family was forced to separate and hide in Budapest sometime between October 1944, when Nazi Germany occupied Hungary and placed in power the Arrow Cross, and February 1945, when the Soviets defeated the German Army in Budapest. Szabó survived by hiding at an orphanage, but his father died of diphtheria shortly after the German defeat. Memories of these events would later appear in several of his films.

Regarding his connection to Communist secret police, he submitted, between 1957 and 1961, forty-eight reports on seventy-two people, mostly classmates and teachers at the Academy of Theatrical and Cinematic Arts. According to historian Istvan Deak, only in one case did Szabó’s information cause significant damage, when an individual was denied a passport. After the article in Life and Literature was published, over one hundred prominent intellectuals, including people Szabó had denounced, published a letter in support of him. Szabó’s initial response to the article was that his provision of information had been an act of bravery intended to save the life of former classmate Pál Gábor. When this claim turned out not to be true, Szabó admitted that his true motive had been to prevent his own expulsion from the Academy.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Istvan Szabo directed Hungarian films, which explored his own generation’s experiences and Hungary’s recent past (Apa (1966); Szerelmesfilm (1970); Tuzoltó utca 25. (1973)). His signature film trilogy consists of Mephisto (1981, winner of an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and a Cannes Award for the Best Screenplay), Colonel Redl (1984, winner of a Jury Prize at the Cannes Festival) and Hanussen (1988). He turned to English-language films making Meeting Venus (1991), Sunshine (1999), Taking Sides (2001) and most recently Being Julia (2004), which garnered an Oscar nomination for actress Annette Bening.

His most acclaimed films grew from ongoing collaborations with famed Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, and friend cinematographer Lajos Koltai. In 1996 he was awarded with the Hungarian Pulitzer Memory Prize (not be confused with the original Pulitzer Prize) for his TV documentary series, “The hundred years of cinema”.


  • Being Julia(2004)
  • Taking Sides(2003)
  • Ten Minutes Older: The Cello (2002) (segment “Ten Minutes After”)
  • Sunshine(1999)
  • Dear Emma, Sweet Böbe (1992)
  • Meeting Venus (1991)
  • Hanussen(1988)
  • Colonel Redl (1985)
  • Bali (1984)
  • Mephisto (1981)
  • Der Grüne Vogel (1980)
  • Confidence(1980)
  • Várostérkép (1977)
  • Budapest Tales (1976)
  • 25 Fireman’s Street (1973)
  • Dream About a House (1972)
  • Budapest, Why I Love It (1971)
  • A Film About Love (1970)
  • Piety (1967)
  • Father (1967)
  • Traffic-Rule Tale for Children (1965)
  • The Age of Daydreaming (1964)


Director: István Szabó

Script: Original novel by Klaus Mann screenplay by Peter Dobray, István Szabó

Cinematography: Lajos Koltai

Editing: Pete Sepenuk

Music: Zdenko Tamassy

Color: Color

Duration: 140’

Klaus Maria Brandauer – Hendrik Hofgen
Krystyna Janda – Barbara Bruckner
Ildiko Bansagi – Nicoletta von Niebuhr
Rolf Hoppe – Tabornagy
Gyorgy Cserhalmi – Hans Miklas
Peter Andorai – Otto Ulrichs
Karin Boyd – Juliette Martens
Christine Harbort – Lotte Lindenthal
Tamas Major – Oskar Kroge
Ildiko Kishonti – Dora Martin

1982 Academy Awards, USA – Winner Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film
1982 BAFTA Awards – Nominee BAFTA Film Award – Most Outstanding Newcomer to Leading Film Roles, Klaus Maria Brandauer
1983 Bambi Awards – Winner Bambi – Best National Actor, Klaus Maria Brandauer
1981 Cannes Film Festival – Winner Best Screenplay – Winner FIPRESCI Prize, Nominee Palme d’Or, István Szabó
1983 Guild of German Art House Cinemas – Winner  Silver Guild Film Award for Foreign Film, István Szabó
1988 Huabiao Film Awards – Winner Huabiao Film Award for Outstanding Translated Foreign Film






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