African-born actor in Hungary: “People just see me as a migrant”

Marcelo Cake-Baly, who came to study in Hungary from war-torn Guinea-Bissau&redirect=yes"> in 1976, makes his debut in a Hungarian movie about the life of an African refugee.

(POPFILM HAND-OUT) – Marcelo Cake-Baly, who came to study in Hungary from war-torn Guinea-Bissau&redirect=yes"> in 1976, has been working as a tram driver in Budapest for over a decade after struggling to find a job as a trained economist.

Now, at the age of 58, his life took a new turn as he has just made his debut in a Hungarian movie about the life of an African refugee, who, after losing his family in a war, settles in Budapest to work as a security guard in a shopping centre.

The film “The Citizen” shows the difficulties and of integration in Hungarian society through a tormented love story, as the main character, Wilson, applies for citizenship and falls in love with a Hungarian history and language teacher who tries to prepare him for the tough citizenship exam.

Director Roland Vranik’s third feature film will be shown in Hungarian cinemas on January 26, at a time when Hungary has barely any refugees left after its rightwing government raised a fence on the southern border and imposed tough laws to keep out migrants at all costs.

Vranik, 49, said when they wrote the script in 2012 with Hungarian writer Ivan Szabo, they wanted to show how black Africans in Budapest put down their roots, found jobs and just got by, showing their hardships and joys in life.

They started to shoot the movie in 2015, when Hungary became a transit route for hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

While talking to refugees and civil organisations helping them on the ground helped gather experience, Vranik said the crisis did not substantially change his story about the universal vulnerability of the refugee as a human being.

“My story is still the same, you know: it works the same way. You know, it does not matter like, we have a migrant crisis or not: these people’s problem will be the same thing, you know. It’s not like, you know… They don’t, they don’t care about migrant problem, they don’t care, they don’t even know we have that. All what they know is they just want you know, they are just running away from such horrible circumstances where they can lose their kids, their lives, everything, you know. All that they know is that… You know, it is like your consciousness becomes narrow and you know, then you just grab your kids and run where somewhere is safe,” he said.

“What we think, it does not matter for them: they just need a safe place and clean water, you know. They just need days when nobody tries to kill them.”

Despite what he describes as a mass psychosis when people got scared of the wave of migrants, Vranik is optimistic: he believes Europeans are still ready to help those in need and says his film is “completely timeless and also spaceless.”

“We have this mass psychosis, you know, when we just got scared, which is the actual nature of fear, you know, we got scared of that faceless faceless crowd which we call ‘migrant’, you know, we got scared of that and I think you have to respect that one, you should not be cynical about that fear, it is a very serious thing, you know, it happened all over history, you know, it’s coming from very far from the history, we have that in our instinct, you know. So we have to understand that but I still believe that European citizens are still helpful and still human beings who understand that these people need help.”

However, Cake-Baly says even though he got Hungarian citizenship in the mid-1990s and has lived in Hungary for about 40 years, the migration crisis has had an impact on his life.

“I feel I am Hungarian, but in the street I look African. It is not written on me how long I have lived here… that I have a Hungarian family, I work here, I am a tax-paying citizen,” he said.

“People just see me as a migrant.”

Cake-Baly recalls his university years in the 1980s as joyful period when he faced no discrimination.

But after a few years working in a bank, he could not find a job any more as an economist after communism collapsed in Hungary in 1989. He faced humiliation in his search for a job, and finally gave up. Years later he applied to work for the Budapest transport company instead.

He said the migration crisis has divided European societies and made life harder for immigrants.

Recently, when he asked a young guy in a tram stop not to smoke as it was forbidden, he “told me he was at home, and I was a migrant, came via the sea and I should have drowned in the sea,” Cake-Baly recalled.

Vranik took a big film making chance by choosing migrants who have never acted before for the main roles but he said he did not regret it.

Arghavan Shekari, from Iran, has lived in Hungary for four years working as a designer. She recalled how initially she was scared of acting. But once the movie shoot began she got overwhelmed by the reality of the story.

“We entered in the morning to that place and I started to shake, and I said ‘god, this is really happening here, you know, the story is happening here maybe everyday’. And, I don’t know, it was like everything, and then there were two big cameras, and I was feeling bad, I cannot do this. Then there was the moment when Marcelo sat in front of me and the cameras started to roll and then I looked at him and it was like boom, like nothing was around me anymore and I looked into his eyes and I started to cry.”

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