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GENEVA 2021

Bálint Szentgyörgyi • Creator and director of The Informant

"We all grew up with families who talked about a world that no longer existed”

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- The young Hungarian director spoke enthusiastically about his eight-part series, which had its international premiere at the Geneva International Film Festival

Bálint Szentgyörgyi • Creator and director of The Informant
(© Mathieu Geser)

The Informant [+see also:
interview: Bálint Szentgyörgyi
series profile
]
, produced by HBO Europe and Proton Cinema, plunges us into the Hungary of the 1980s, between hope and tragedy, thanks to a very careful reconstruction. The story is told through the daily life of Geri (Gergely Váradi), a young student forced to become an informant for the state security services, who for the first time tastes the joys of student parties and the camaraderie that arises from the revolutionary speeches that float through the air in his dormitory. Precise and at the same time refreshing, the series presented in its international premiere at the Geneva International Film Festival (GIFF) seduces us from its first episode. We spoke with its creator and director, Bálint Szentgyörgyi.

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Cineuropa: How did the idea for the series come about? Was the project thought in this form from the beginning?
Bálint Szentgyörgyi:
Yes. I always knew that I wanted to make series about the history of Central Europe where I come from. I wanted these stories to be accessible to viewers in both Eastern and Western Europe, to ring true and not be banal. This is something rare, which has never really been done in Hungary. The serial format fitted well with this but there was also a practical reason. When I started the project I was 24 years old and had no experience, I was self-taught and had not attended a film school. In Hungary I tried several times to get public funding to make my first short film but, of course, without success. So I decided to go ahead without public funding and with the help of my best friends, who were also self-taught. One is the director of photography and the other is the actor who plays the young student who shares the protagonist's room. I always knew he was a great actor, a star. I told them: we are going to make a film without funds, with those who want to follow us. I'm going to write the script and the idea is to create a forty-two minute film, not a finished product of eighty minutes. It is going to be the first episode of a series that I will show to all Hungarian TV stations to buy. We shot the first episode in eleven days, working thirteen, fourteen hours a day. We were a group of friends that I consider my film family. Then I showed up at HBO headquarters without knowing anyone. From assistant to assistant I managed to get an appointment. I spent the two months before the meeting writing the next episodes knowing that if HBO was intrigued by the first part, they would ask me to tell them the rest. And that's what happened! I said straight away that I wanted to be the director of the show and that I wanted all my mates to follow me.

In the reconstruction of the period, everything is extremely well done: the settings, the objects, the clothes, etc. It must have taken a lot of research.
Yes. Strategically what I thought was right was to get the grand old men of the time, a costume designer and a hairdresser who were adults in the eighties to tell me if it sounded real and to do exactly what they would have done at the time. That was really important to me and I think I can say that the gamble paid off. From the beginning I was looking for this mix between historical truth, brought by my parents' generation, and a new energy brought by us as a young generation.

What is your relationship with this period? How do you perceive it and what really made you want to tell it?
What's interesting about my generation, in relation to this period, is that we all grew up with families who talked about a world that no longer existed except in a few objects from the past. We all grew up surrounded by a nostalgia that was foreign to us. Our parents, and especially our grandparents, have a very ambiguous relationship with this period. Obviously, my parents, like the protagonists of the series, had a very idealised view of the West but they had no idea what was going on on the other side and that always seemed very, very interesting to me. What interests me in everything I do is the tipping point, because of an abnormal, unexpected situation, towards something else that will define our future. Central Europe, Western Europe in the twentieth century is full of these stories. The bet I would like to succeed in is to make the western audience feel this, to perceive it, to make my parents' and grandparents' generation watch the series out of nostalgia and to make the youth watch it because of the energy it gives off. In this sense, I took care to choose actors who are mostly emerging. I find it hard to connect with the generation of Hungarian directors before me, so I really wanted to give the new generation the opportunity to emerge, to write more complex roles for them than they are usually offered at their age. The serial format helped me a lot in this sense because we have time to really build the characters. I find that, in terms of writing and acting, the characters are more three-dimensional. The relationships they form can develop in a more complex way and the actors can imitate life better. When I was a child I read a lot and this took me somewhere else, caught up in a great story, and I find that when a series is well done, you get the same impression, you feel a depth in the world that has been built, in the characters.

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(Translated from French)

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