If you are lacking some thrilling Hungarian spy series in your life, the streaming giant has got your back. The first episode of the eight-part television drama has just aired two days prior to the Hungarian general election which some believe was no coincidence. Rumours have it that one of the main characters of The Informant is based on Viktor Orbán, well not the current Hungarian PM but his younger self before he entered the political scene some 30 years ago. Regardless of the credibility of this hearsay, we are in for good entertainment.
The promising Hungarian spy drama, written and co-directed by Hungarian self-taught rising star Bálint Szentgyörgyi, is an HBO EMEA original that premiered at the Geneva International Film Festival. The story plunges us into the 80’s Hungary, during the time of the Iron Curtain, and is narrated through the daily joys and struggles of Geri Demeter, a young student who is forced to lead a double life. A college freshman and skilled chess player, Geri is bribed for a piece of punch cake and then involuntarily recruited on the train to Budapest by the state police.
In exchange for easier access to life-saving medicine for his younger brother, Geri the protagonist has to infiltrate a group of radicals led by fellow student Zsolt Száva and report on them.
Upon beginning his studies, Geri’s life changes forever and turns into a heady mix of partying, studying, making friends, falling in love and, if he wants to keep his brother alive, reporting to intelligence on his friends. While juggling hedonistic college parties and heated political debates, he constantly wrestles with the urging question: whose side is he on and why? As the friendship deepens between Geri and Száva, his dilemma intensifies. Once the leader of the activist group begins to suspect there is an informant among them, it is just a matter of time until all comes crashing down.
In an interview Szentgyörgyi gave to cineuropa.org, he revealed what inspired him to create this ambitious project, the first-ever Hungarian spy drama set in the ’80s. The aspiring Hungarian director grew up in a generation where families still frequently talked about the communist era, a world that no longer existed yet was often brought up in conversations during Sunday lunches and other gatherings.
“Our parents, and especially our grandparents, have a very ambiguous relationship with this period. Obviously, my parents […] had a very idealised view of the West but they had no idea what was going on on the other side and that always seemed very, very interesting to me”
He wanted to create a series that would convey this feeling, this foreign sense of nostalgia to the western audience. After all, these absurd and often abnormal past events defined the future for millions in Hungary. On the other hand, the director also found it important that the generation of his parents and grandparents enjoyed and found the show truthful while it would also connect with Millenials and members of Gen Z. To achieve that, he hired costume designers and hairdressers who were already working in the ’80s but, as a bold move, chose lesser-known, emerging actors. The cast of the Informant includes both close friends and Hungarian TikTok starlets.
The creator and director of the TV drama, Bálint Szentgyörgyi is often referred to as “the new wonder child of HBO Europe”. According to cineuropa.org, he started the project at the age of 24 without any formal education. He has never attended a film school to learn the tricks and techniques of the industry, nor does he come from a family with a cinematic background. How did he land in the movie business despite all that? That is a story itself well worth bringing to the big screen. Szentgyörgyi always had the dream to make an authentic series about the history of Hungary that really rings true. Once the concept was in place, he started knocking at the doors for public funding but each time he got rejected.
Eventually, he decided to gather his friends, who also learned filmmaking in an autodidact way, and created the first pilot of the series in a makeshift manner: the mic was duct-taped to a floor cleaning mop and most of the filming gear was borrowed
The first episode was shot in 11 days, the team worked tirelessly 13-14 hours a day to achieve that. Szentgyörgyi initially planned to contact Hungarian TV stations to show the pilot but changed his mind and decided to go for the bigger fish. Without knowing anyone at the HBO headquarters, the ambitious young director relentlessly kept calling one assistant after another and within two months he finally landed an appointment to show his 42-minute pilot. HBO Europe was so impressed by Szentgyörgyi’s work that they straight away picked up a full season.
The Informant will be aired weekly on all platforms of HBO Max across 61 territories, including Europe, the US, the Caribbean and Latin America. Check out the official trailer subtitled in English!
Source: telex.hu, cineuropa.org, 24.hu