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Refuge England (1959)


Main image of Refuge England (1959)
16mm, black and white, 27 mins
DirectorRobert Vas
Production Co.BFI Experimental Film Fund
ProducerRobert Vas
ScriptLaszlo Marton
Script & commentaryRobert Vas
PhotographyWalter Lassally
 Louis Wolfers

Cast: Bill Collins; Tibor Molnar; Abdul Hamid Khan; Leonard Ryland

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The story of a Hungarian man's first day in London.

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Like the Swiss makers of Nice Time (d. Claude Goretta and Alain Tanner, 1957), Refuge England's director Robert Vas was a foreigner working for the British Film Institute when he took advantage of the BFI Experimental Film Fund - and of the succcess of previous Free Cinema films - to direct his first short. He was awarded a £400 grant in July 1958, and began shooting his film around London in the autumn, with a very small crew and Walter Lassally behind the camera.

The film records the experiences of a Hungarian refugee arriving in London with no English, little money and with his only prospect of help an incomplete address written on a postcard. The director's own experiences - Vas himself came to London as a refugee in 1956 - give the film an authenticity in its portrayal of the protagonist's conflicting responses to his new environment: isolation and wonder, despair and hope.

Although the use of the voice-over to describe the refugee's feelings seems to demonstrate a more conventional approach, it does not dominate, acting instead as another level of information. Despite the narration, the contrast of images and sounds (the noises of London, Hungarian folk music) is in keeping with the established Free Cinema style.

Refuge England is also a unique record of London in the late 1950s, from Waterloo to the West End to the semi-detached houses of suburbia, seen through the enquiring and impartial eyes of an outsider.

The film received a warm reception as part of the Free Cinema 6 programme, and Vas was given another grant by the BFI to make a second Free Cinema-style short, The Vanishing Street, three years later.

Christophe Dupin

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Free Cinema'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (25:02)
Production stills
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