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Lajos Koltai’s ‘Semmelweis’ Brings Hungarian Moviegoers Back to Theaters

“Semmelweis,” which NFI World Sales will be selling at the European Film Market in Berlin, has become the highest grossing Hungarian movie in local theaters in five years.

The film is directed by Lajos Koltai who was Oscar nominated as the cinematographer of Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Malena.” “Semmelweis” marks Koltai’s first return to directing since “Evening” in 2007.

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“Semmelweis” is a period biopic about a Hungarian doctor who became known as the “saviour of mothers” for introducing antiseptic procedures at a Vienna maternity clinic.

The film has attracted more than 280,000 moviegoers since its premiere on Nov. 30, and was among the top three movies for nine weeks. It has grossed more than $1.7 million.

Set in 19th century Vienna, the film tells the story of Ignac Semmelweis, the short-tempered but passionate doctor, who delivers babies and also carries out autopsies on a daily basis while looking for the cause of puerperal fever, the mysterious epidemic that decimates patients in the hospital.

His boss prohibits him from conducting research into the subject and sends his right-hand man to cross him at every turn. He also forces a young midwife, Emma Hoffmann, to spy on him.

However, the relationship between Semmelweis and Emma develops into a romance. When Semmelweis discovers the cause and a way to prevent the fever, many of his peers try to discredit him, yet he carries on with the fight to prove his theory at all costs.

“Semmelweis’ life is an example for all of us: a man who always, in all circumstances, followed his own path with a courage that defied death, which could not be diverted by hatred or violence. I wanted to show the viewers that it can be done: perseverance, determination, dedication and passion bear fruit,” Koltai said.

It is the third film about the life of the physician so dear to Hungarians, after André de Toth’s film in 1940 and Frigyes Bán’s film in 1952.

The lead role in “Semmelweis” is played by young talent Miklós H. Vecsei. The film was written by Balázs Maruszki; the cinematographer was András Nagy; and the music was composed by Attila Pacsay.

“Semmelweis” was produced by Tamás Lajos at Szupermodern Filmstúdió and Joe Vida, and was supported by the National Film Institute of Hungary.

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