Along with such artists as Istvan Szabo and Pal Gabor, Istvan Gaal was a leading member of the Hungarian "new wave" in the 1960s. The son of an electrician, he worked briefly as a laborer and technician to please his father before embarking on his career as a filmmaker. While at Budapest's Academy of Theatre and Cinematography during the 1956 revolution, Gaal made his diploma film "Palyamunkasok/Surfacemen" (1957), the first of several award-winning shorts. In 1959, he won a scholarship to study at Rome's Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Returning to his homeland, he began to direct newsreels and documentaries as well as short films working at the Bela Belazs Studio where he first met future collaborator director-cinematographer Sandor Sera. They collaborated on several short films and Gaal's first full-length feature "Sodrasban/Current" (1964), which won praise for its austere, sensitive treatment of young students. Particular attention was paid to the director's use of music and camerawork, notably a sequence that pans the bedroom of a dead youth choreographed to Vivaldi and another of the youth's grandmother engaging in a ritual underscored by a baroque air. The film was the first of an unofficial trilogy that explored peasant culture and was followed by "Zoldar/The Green Years" (1965) and "Keresztleo/Baptism" (1967). The later utilized flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks to tell its story, a structure that some found confusing at the time.
Over the course of his career, Gaal often interspersed documentary films with his fictional ones, and following the completion of his trilogy, helmed the non-fiction features "Kronika/Chronicle" (1968) and "Tizeves Kuba/Cuba's Ten Years" (1969). In 1970, he wrote, directed and edited his first color motion picture "Megasiskola/The Falcons" (1970), which most critics agree is his masterpiece. Adapted from a novella by Miklos Meszoly, "The Falcons" centers on a student at a hunting camp run by a ruthless bureaucrat. With its near documentary approach to the training of the birds of prey and its reliance on revelation of personality through selected scenes, the film functions as both a character study and an allegory for a totalitarian regime. Eschewing his usual use of music in favor of long sequences filled with silences or natural sounds and employing fluid camerawork, Gaal created a haunting and memorable feature. His subsequent output has been relatively skimpy, but both "Holt videk/Dead Landscape" (1971) and "Legato" (1977) won awards at European film festivals. The former re-examined the themes of how individuals relate to the natural world via the psychological deterioration of one woman while the latter was a quest story of a young man out to discover what he could about his deceased father. Gaal's last feature to date was a staid film version of the opera "Orfeusz es Eurydike/Orpheus and Eurydice" (1985).
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Editing (Feature Film)
Enrolled at the Academy of Theatre and Cinematography in Budapest
Short film directing debut, "Palyamunkasok/Surfacemen"
Travelled to Rome to attend Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia
Directed and wrote the short film "Etude"
Served as cinematographer on Sandor Sara's short film "Ciganyok/Gypsies"
Wrote, edited and directed first feature film "Sodrasban/Current"; first film in an unofficial triology
Helmed second feature "Zoldar/The Green Years"
Completed his trilogy with "Keresztelo/Baptism"
Made first color film "Megasiskola/The Falcons"; considered by many critics to be his masterpiece
Directed two films for Hungarian TV, "Vamhatar/The Customs Frontier" and "Napanta Ket vonat/Two Trains Per Day"
Directed, edited and scripted last feature film to date "Orfeusz es Eurydike/Orpheus and Eurydice"