Photography wasn’t the initial career choice of Gabor Szilasi, whose life has managed to interact with several of the major events of our times. He discovered photography while studying medicine in Hungary and bought his first camera in 1952; after documenting the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he fled the country in 1957, going first to Vienna and then to Canada. He and his father settled in Montreal, not long before the Quiet Revolution that secularized Quebec’s government and led to the creation of the modern welfare state. Now 93, Szilasi is still taking photographs, and developing and printing them—although he also uses his phone to take pictures—and seems to be enjoying life as much as ever.
Szilasi’s life and work is the subject of Joannie Lafrenière’s smart and appreciative documentary Gabor. Lafrenière, who is both a director and photographer, had long admired Szilasi’s photography—in fact, she says it was his work that inspired her to become a photographer herself. They met in 2015 at the Gaspé Photography Festival, where she was presenting, and found that they hit it off. When she later got in touch with the proposal that she make a film about him, he took only a day before agreeing, noting both that “she seemed really nice” and “she had a great sense of humour, which I have as well.” Lafrenière had a similar reaction to him, noting that his work was always full of “kindness, humanity, poetry, and humour.”
Gabor is a journey through both time and space. It documents aspects of Szilasi and Lafrenière’s travels across two continents, during which they visited locations in Canada and Hungary meaningful to him, including rural areas where he had taken pictures many years before. The journey in time is more virtual, as the pair visit with friends, family members, and colleagues who recall his younger years and discuss how he affected their lives.
You get to see a lot of Szilasi’s photographs in Gabor, which helps you appreciate what a master of the art he was. At the same time, the film is infused with Lafrenière’s distinctive sensibility, and is full of quirks and color and playful compositions. Her filmed interviews are carefully composed, and, like Wes Anderson, she loves placing her subjects in the exact center of the frame. She also shares Anderson’s taste for detailed backgrounds that make you wish you were in the room so you could look at what you’re seeing more closely. The result is a lively, entertaining documentary that, despite being made up largely of still photographs and interviews, never seems static and regularly proves itself to be surprising. | Sarah Boslaugh
Gabor is available for home viewing in the United States as part of the 25th Annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, which runs from 12 pm ET on April 7, 2022, through 11:59 pm ET on April 10, 2022. Further information is available through the festival web site.