“Will these faces fade away?” – the main character travelling to Budapest poses himself the question at the end of Feldobott kô, produced in 1968, and continues: “They will hold you accountable for history, and they will be right. Hold history accountable for man, and you will be right. And hold yourself accountable for it, too.” It is not too difficult to recognise the director, Sándor Sára, in this character, and his moral and artistic conviction in the thoughts above. After his first unsuccessful application, Sára and his alter ego were wandering across the country as rodmen, and gathering worthwhile experiences about the dramatic contradictions between socialist theory and practice. Memories of the previous months were swirling in a jar, in the boy’s mind: about photos he had taken of the rugged features of old farmers, pictures of murdered Greek refugees and humiliated gypsies.
One would need plenty of jars if one wanted to collect all the stylistically and genre-wise variable, thought-provoking stills of Sára’s nearly six-decade long career. Separate jars would be required for his tentative etudes (Virágát a napnak, Pro Patria), lyrical socio-dramas (Cigányok, Vízkereszt, Egyedül), his recent parable (Holnap lesz fácán), film dramas against the history-interrogating (80 huszár, Könyörtelen idôk, Vigyázók, A vád) or acerbic experiments (Tüske a köröm alatt), his “talking head” report-documentaries, his photos that capture the faces of not only Hungarian but Indian people living through difficult experiences, and the Duna Television “cinema” pictures that earned him the UNESCO Award for commitment to Hungarian as well as universal culture. The cinematographer’s most memorable compositions could not be stuffed into a single jar either, since the more directors he’s worked with – from István Gaál to Ferenc Kósa, from Zoltán Huszárik to István Szabó or László Ranódy – the more visual styles he has created.
With his typical obstinate and brave approach, Sára often chose topics that were inappropriate or even forbidden to talk about. Since the beginning of the eighties, he became the creator of long documentaries preceding the fall of Communism that even managed to dissolve Hungary’s historical amnesia (Krónika/Pergôtûz, Sír az út elôttem, Csonka-Bereg, Lefegyverzett ellenséges erôk, Magyar nôk a Gulágon, Nehézsorsúak, Memento). In these films, the very first opportunity is given to the survivors of the battle at River Don and those who were held by the Russians during Soviet occupation to tell us about their tragedies and the hell of the Russian Gulag. Most of them are no longer with us, but their faces etched with misery will not be forgotten, so that we cannot be held accountable for history.