Moscow Square (Moszkva tér) is currently unavailable to rent, stream or buy in the United Kingdom.
Moszkva tér is undoubtedly a cornerstone of contemporary Hungarian cinema, which instantly became a cult classic upon its release. Made in 2001 by Ferenc Török, the story follows the lives of a group of high school seniors in 1989, a pivotal year in Eastern European history. Török’s film centres on Petya (Gábor Karalyos) and his friends through a range of universal coming-of-age themes, the historical and political details kept strictly in the background of each young character. Here the coming-of-age dynamics at play ensure Moszkva tér never falls into the trap of becoming a political and historical drama on the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead, we are offered a semi-autobiographical reflection of the director’s teenage experiences as communism fell.
Moszkva tér (Moscow Square) refers to one of Budapest’s busiest transport hubs, a microcosm of society that became an iconic Hungarian location. But Moszkva tér was also an iconic teenage hangout. This was a place where teenagers gathered with friends after school, learning about the best parties in town while drinking, eating and building new relationships. While the plot of Moszkva tér may tread familiar ground in the coming-of-age sub-genre, its brilliance is held in the reality and atmosphere of late-’80s Eastern Europe that Török captures. Here Török reflects a range of small but perfectly formed Hungarian moments and traditions that combine to create an exquisite portrait of a changing nation and one of the most important Hungarian films ever made.
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Petya is portrayed as an awkward and aimless teen, not knowing what to do with his life or how to initiate a conversation with his crush, Zsófi (Eszter Balla). He is a passive, everyman character who somehow manages to encapsulate every teen and the multiple anxieties they carry. But much of Moszkva tér success comes from its delightful ensemble of memorable characters. Here Török builds a community that anyone, who has, or does, live in Eastern Europe would relate to immediately.
For example, we have Rojál, a rude and foul-mouthed bully who has become one of the film’s most iconic characters with his emblematic one-liners. In fact, Simon Szabó has been typecast in similar roles for the better part of two decades. Then we have Petya’s grandmother, Boci mama (Erzsi Pápai), the beloved Eastern-European grandma, who is against her grandson’s career as a taxi driver, yet spends the last of her money on a used Zhiguli to make it work. Meanwhile, Petya’s classmates include Kigler, a spoiled rich kid whose father manages a shady car dealership and Ságodi (Bence Jávor), the ultimate annoying know-it-all nerd.
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In a pivotal plot point, school exam questions are leaked (something that did indeed happen in 1989), allowing our students to prepare for the topics beforehand. While the government tries to do something about the situation, we learn the teachers are also cheating. Here we find the history teacher (Zsolt Kovács) casually helping them prepare for the leaked topics while also ensuring Petya’s lazy underachiever friend Kigler (Vilmos Csatlós) passes the history exam. In what is quite possibly one of the film’s funniest lines, the same teacher declares, “In consideration of the political situation, no past-1945 history questions will be part of the graduation exam”. This joke only demonstrates the uncertain political status of 1989 and the undercurrent of change that ripples through Török’s movie.
However, Török’s film also shifts gear in the last act as Petya takes an impromptu trip to Vienna and then Paris with forged train tickets. His mission is to reunite with Zsófi, but he soon realises they are incompatible. Here Moszkva tér finally challenges us to explore the cultural, economic and ideological barriers between countries separated by the Iron Curtain. Of course, Moszkva tér does not exist anymore as portrayed in the film, having been renamed to Széll Kálmán tér in 2011 (its original, pre-communist name). But Török’s film captures a moment in time that will never be forgotten by all those young people who lived through it while also capturing an eternal aimlessness and awkwardness of adolescence that we can all relate to.