Vienna and Budapest, Austria and Hungary at the end of the 19th century, first half of the 20th century was an exceptional social-cultural ‘little world’ where, to quote the words of Friedrich Hebbel, ‘the big world holds its rehearsal’. Great writers, from Franz Kafka to Robert Musil, and great filmmakers have analysed all this. They, Austrian and Hungarians, found fame and fortune chiefly as emigrants, chiefly in America. They integrated themselves into the Hollywood studio system but they also brought something with them, which generations of directors learnt from: the ‘human touch’, the ability to tell stories effectively.
They were schooled in the popular culture of Vienna and Budapest, added to which was the historical experience of wars and revolutions, a profound, shrewd understanding of man, his fallibility, strengths and capacity for survival. The best, Billy Wilder, Mihály Kertész, Fred Zinnemann and other, built this into their movies. Universal film history would be inconceivable without a few enigmatic Central European actors. The secret of faces and the human touch is difficult to decipher. However, our selection and related programmes are an attempt to pick apart the riddle.