Kornél Mundruczó is one of the leading figures of the contemporary Hungarian film scene and a returning guest at Cannes: his consecutive features, Delta and Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project were both in competition at the festival. This is, of course, not just a lucky coincidence – it is the inevitable result of the dedication which the Cannes Film Festival shows when it comes to nurturing talent. Let’s see from where Mundruczó started and where he is now!

Kornél Mundruczó’s filmmaking career is not short of interesting facts: one of them is his unorthodox debut in Cannes. While new talents are usually invited to the Cinéfondation section, his 22-minute short film Joan of Arc on the Night Bus was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight, an independent section with no particular rules. The Directors’ Fortnight is a non-competitive section with no awards, but being invited here counts as a big achievement. Joan of Arc on the Night Bus, which is available to watch on Daazo.com, was the closing segment of the sketch film A Bus Came…, but – as another unexpected twist – it later established itself as an independent short film.

This recognition was followed by another Cannes acknowledgement: Mundruczó’s diploma film Little Apocrypha No. 2 was the  first ever Hungarian participant at the Cinéfondation, a section that has been on the lookout for new talents since 1998.  In this short film, considered as the prestudy of his later success Delta, many of Delta’s elements are already there: the setting is the Danube Delta, and the main character is played by Orsi Tóth, but the story is more allegorical.

Kornél Mundruczó

Mundruczó Kornél entered the Cannes Résidence in 2003 with his Delta project and lived in Paris for six months – this is how he remembered this period in an interview: “I was able to work very well in Paris because I managed to shed the city that is Budapest. I was very much on my own and this was very good and effective. Besides these, I am very grateful to the Résidence for a number of other things: among others, I went through a phase of searching for my identity and I learnt that I was Eastern European through and through – a fact I could even be proud of. I made friends there, for example with Karim Ainouz, director of Madam Sata, who participated in the programme at the same time as I, or with Argentinian director Verónica Chen, whose films, sadly, didn’t make it to Hungarian cinemas. We have remained close friends to the present day. Another thing worth mentioning is that I was able to go to the cinema every day with the free tickets I got to the Cinématheque, where almost every new film gets screened. It was incredibly good to go to the cinema in Paris – a wonderful experience.”

The Un Certain Regard section is a non-competitive programme of the official selection in Cannes: this is where Kornél Mundruczó came to in 2005 with his film-opera Johanna, which is a cinematic and musical interpretation of the Passion of Joan of Arc. Johanna, a young drug addict, falls into a deep coma after an accident. Doctors miraculously manage to save her from death’s door. Touched by grace, Johanna cures patients by offering them her body. It sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Not to mention that the characters of this film sing as well!

Joan of Arc on the Nightbus (watch the film)

And finally, the big challenge: the competition. Kornél Mundruczó’s two consecutive features both debuted in Cannes: Delta, reflecting classic arthouse traditions, was a roaring success in 2008 and it went on to win the International Critics’ Prize. Tender Son – The Frankenstein Project, a much more experimental work re-interpreting the Frankenstein story began its international career in 2010 as part of the official competition, but its reception was slightly quieter than that of Delta. This doesn’t change the fact that Kornél Mundruczó piqued the interest of one of the most acclaimed European film festivals early in his career, and that the Cannes Film Festival made sure he got all it could offer: opportunities, introductions and recognition. Through this, Kornél Mundruczó has become one of the most significant figures of contemporary European cinema.

Daazo.com has brought together the director’s short films in its collection, ranging from his earliest work to more recent, award-winning pieces.

To avoid confusion, it is important to mention that Mundruczó likes to return to his topics and even to his film titles. He made two short films with the title Little Apochrypha – the second one was selected for Cannes. His short film Joan of Arc on the Night Bus was screened at the Director’s Fortnight in 2003 and his feature film-opera, Johanna (again, with a Joan in the title role) was chosen for the Un Certain Regard section, which focuses on young talents with innovative work and extraordinary vision.

text: Anita Libor
photograph & collage: Cristina Grosan