Sunday, March 16, 2008

CHILDREN OF GLORY/SZABADSAG, SZERELEM - a partially successful movie about the Hungarian Uprising

There are no bears in Hungary. Unless we've crossed the border into Romania, in which case there ARE bears. If we're in Serbia, then... I don't know.CHILDREN OF GLORY is a bombastic, self-consciously epic film from the pen of Joe Eszterhas of BASIC INSTINCT fame. He brings a mainstream Hollywood, glossy sensibility to the deathly serious subject matter of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and the blood in the water incident at the Melbourne Olympics. I have mixed feelings about the glossy style of this film. Perhaps superimposing a schmaltzy love story onto this material will win it a wider audience - and frankly, this is such an important subject that you could take the view 'by any means necessary'. But I also felt a little uneasy, especially in the final scenes, that the movie had reduced something important to a sort of under-dog sports-movie finale.

The movie opens with the Hungarian water-polo team playing a rigged match in Moscow. Evidently the Soviets will not lose to a satelite state. Upon their return, the team are upbraided by the secret police for rubbishing their hosts and our beautiful hero, a fictional composite called Karcsi Szabó (Iván Fenyö) is initially happy to comply. Being an Olympic sportsman brings him privilege and protects his family. Our hero gets drawn into the student protests against Soviet occupation when he spots a pretty protestor called Viki (Kata Dobó). Through her, he finds that he actually does believe in fighting for freedom even it means sacrificing his place in the Olympic team.

The protests spill into a wider Hungarian uprising and the Soviets mobilise their tanks. But in a cruel twist of history, the Hungarians are fooled by a temporary withdrawal and appeasement. Thinking they have won, Karsci goes to the Melbourne Olympics to win glory for his newly free country. But Viki is left behind as the Soviets renege on their promises and send in the tanks. She continues to fight, hoping the Americans will intervene.

As the revolution is crushed, we move to the Olympics for the obligatory Hollywood adrenaline packed finale. The water-polo team triumph, despite a vicious attack on Karsci in the water. But the simplistic end of the film seems thin and unsatisfying. Can we really take any comfort from a sporting triumph when we've just seen Hungarians butchered? And what will become of our hero? We know his friends will defect but the movie doesn't bother to tell us whether he goes back to Budapest.

Still, I can't help but think that it's worth watching CHILDREN OF GLORY. It's handsomely shot and you certainly get a feel for how a student protest spilled out into a wider protest. I like the little details. Moreover, while the love story may seem a little cheap by the end of the film, there's no doubt that it provides a useful hook upon which to hang the audience's interest for the majority of the film.

CHILDREN OF GLORY opened in Hungary and the USA in 2006. It played Berlin 2007 and opened in Thailand, Sweden and Japan. It is currently on limited release in the UK.

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