Merry-Go-Round [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (22nd May 2024).
The Film

Palme d'Or: Zoltán Fábri (nominee) - Cannes Film Festival, 1966

It may be 1953, but in rural Hungary, it is still the maxim that "land marries into land," at least among those who have land or want to own it. Having spent most of her young life with her family participating in a farming co-op, the youthful reverie of Marie Pataki (Electra, My Love's Mari Töröcsik) is shattered when her father István (Young Noszty and Mary Toth's Béla Barsi) decides that he is not seeing enough returns and decides to leave the commune, taking after boastful neighbor Sándor (In Soldier's Uniform's Ádám Szirtes). He not only forbids Marie associating with the co-op farmers – including love interest Máté Bíró (Goose Boy's Imre Soós) – but also has also agreed to marry her off to the middle-aged Sándor without her consent. Although resentful of her father's plans, Marie is advised by her mother (The Lady from Constantinople's Manyi Kiss) that "smooth talkers and jokers are bad farmers." Marie is reluctant to defy her father but Máté's fervent wooing of her – as well as having to be part of the wedding party of a family friend in which her own father declares "the bride is for sale" to announce the money dance in which men pay to dance with the bride before the vows – leads to a confrontation between authoritarian father and a once devoted daughter in which neither will back down.

Merry-Go-Round presumably skirted communist censorship by underlining its youthful defiance of authoritarian figures by associating Máté with the co-op and the life to which István and Sándor aspire seems to reach back further than the days when her mother chose to be a farmer's wife for security to the medieval (her mother says "that's a woman's fate and so it will be forever"); indeed, the film makes effort not to entangle Máté's conflict with István over his demand to the co-op to return the land on which Máté is farming with his defiant courtship of Marie by way of having him not only the way Marie and her mother must peddle wares at the market while waiting for István's and Sándor's scheme to "bear fruit" but also having Máté call the co-op counsel out for their complacency and reluctance to innovate as he and his friends have been doing on their own. The film is rather slow in its setup and becomes even more dreary as it goes on until the climactic scene of the wedding dance when it is no longer Marie and Máté being spun around the merry-go-round as they were in the opening scene but it is now them spinning but the effect is dizzying to the inebriated wedding party and the audience. From that point on, the drama intensifies and it is only in the aftermath of near violence that sober heads prevail (just not in a conventional way). István threatens to kill his daughter if she ever disrupts his plans "again" and retorts to Sándor's threats to sue him if he does not control his daughter – who he describes dismissively as having "gone crazy" – with "You want me to help you into my daughter's bed," and suggests that it is he who is inadequate to control his fiancée. The film has a look inspired by Italian neorealism but a narrative that is almost but not quite Old Hollywood. Director Zoltán Fábri (Professor Hannibal) started out as a production designer and his visual sense is apparent without the film looking overly storyboarded. Although the film was not well-received in its homeland initially, it was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and was twice voted by Hungarian critics as one of the twelve best Hungarian films in 1968 and 2000.


Unreleased theatrically in the U.K. and not released stateside until 1958 by Trans-Lux, Merry-Go-Round received a 4K restoration in 2017 when the Hungarian Film Institute became part of the Hungarian Film Fund. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer - previously released by Second Run in 2021 as part of the Hungarian Masters: Three films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós Jancsó limited edition boxed set - is virtually spotless even though it is a composite of different elements for some instances where frames were missing. The range of blacks, grays, and whites is appealing, and inconsistent sharpness is only an issue during the merry-go-round scene in which a heavy Debrie studio camera and its operator were mounted on one of the merry-go-round seats rather than a custom rig that one might expect from later films.


The sole audio option is an LPCM 2.0 mono track which is not particularly dynamic in keeping with productions of the time but may too have been meticulously cleaned – as per the restoration demo – and the optional English subtitles are free of any errors.


Extras start with "We're Flying, Mari" (11:19) in which filmmaker István Szabó (Mephisto) relates the anecdote of how former French president François Mitterrand on the one hundredth anniversary of the first cinematogaph screenings by the Lumičre brothers remarked that the essence of cinema was a girl on a merry-go-round but that he could not recall the film, which turned out to be Körhinta, and goes on to discuss Fábri's work as production designer and director and the strain of expressionism that was more evident in his other film.

Also included are screen tests (19:08) which feature alternate line readings and inflections in different locations that might either be mocked up for the tests or scrapped in favor of the ones in the final film after Fábri saw them onscreen.

The 2017 restoration demo (9:57) looks at the process of scanning the elements, seeking out missing frames from other materials, and the cleanup which does include efforts to correct and improve visual and audio limitations of the period unlike the Czech archival restorations which attempted to replicate the original theatrical experience (warts and all).

The theatrical trailer (1:21) has also been included.


Housed with the disc is a 20-page booklet with an essay by Hungarian cinema specialist John Cunningham who notes that the social realism was on the wane just two years after Stalin's death and that there was an "growing urge for change, in all aspects of Hungarian society" and cites among the film's inspirations István Szöts's People of the Mountains.


Merry-Go-Round cleverly managed to skirt Hungarian censors while challenging authoritarianism under the guise of "tradition."


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