Art Mirroring Life: Star of New Hungarian Film Has Gone from Refugee to Movie Star

A new Hungarian film, The Citizen, was recently shown at the Stockholm Film Festival. Directed by Roland Vranik, the film portrays the struggles of a middle-aged refugee name Wilson, and his attempts to find his place in Hungarian society. The script was co-written by  Iván Szabó.

In the film Wilson, whose family was killed during an outbreak of civil war in Guinea-Bissau, fled to Budapest as a political refugee, and ended up working as a security guard in a grocery store at the age of fifty. The story follows his quest for Hungarian citizenship, and he is aided in his preparations by Mari, a History teacher; during the course of his trials he also meets Shirin, a young Iranian girl whose only hope to avoid deportation is to marry a Hungarian citizen.

Vranik, the Citizen’s director, describes the film by asking people to imagine the main character’s experience in reverse:

“Imagine that the Ukrainian conflict spreads [to Hungary], they slaughter your family, and you, with five thousand euros and a broken leg, take a boat from Croatia to Algeria. There, you start to learn Arabic, you learn about the constitution, and everything else, and you end up as a security guard in a small Algerian city at the age of 50. It’s really not quite the same thing as moving from Szeged to Debrecen [a 3-hour journey by car].”

The film’s star is Dr. Marcelo Cake-Baly, who is himself originally a refugee from Guinea-Bissau, and whose life mirrors that of the character he plays in many respects. Fleeing war in Guinea Bissau, Cake-Baly went to Senegal, where he joined a school program that provided excellent students with a scholarship to go to Europe to complete their university studies. It was through this program that he came to Hungary.

After earning a degree from Karl Marx University of Economics, Cake-Baly worked for some time as an economist for banks, while at the same time writing his PhD dissertation. He lost both of his positions at banks, however, due to the fact that he was not a Hungarian citizen.

He eventually gained Hungarian citizenship, and has worked for Budapest Public Transportation (BKV) since 2005, after beating out dozens of other candidates. He currently helps direct the flow of traffic in the Hungarian capital. He is married with two children; the younger child, his daughter, is in 5th grade and suffers from health problems, while his older son has become involved in Hungarian politics, and is currently the director of the opposition party Dialogue for Hungary (Párbeszéd Magyarországért).


Dr. Cake-Baly describes his entry into the world of film as being something of an accident, saying “About 2 years ago I was walking at Oktogon Square, and Roland was there in some little coffee shop. I walked past him, and he ran after me.” Vranik explained to Marcelo the film he was in the process of planning, and said that he was looking for a lead actor. The results of this collaboration can be seen in the Citizen.

When describing how it felt to make a film, Dr. Cake-Baly responded by saying “I miss it. But this has happened as well, I can check it off my list, I am moving forward. Such is life.”

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Images via The Citizen 

Video via Stockholm Film Festival’s official YouTube channel