Dir: Krisztina Goda. Hung-UK. 2006. 123mins.
Produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the1956 Hungarian Revolution, the first time that the people of an Eastern Bloccountry took up arms against the Soviet Regime, Children Of Glory is a rousing and highly effective tribute to themen and women who fought in the battle.
Highbrow film critics andforeign-language film snobs might scoff at the melodrama employed to tell thestory, but most audiences will be swept up in the saga and there won't be a dryeye in the house at its climax.
It shouldn't come as asurprise that the lavishly produced film hits all the right emotional beatssince it's crafted by Hungarian ex-pats Andy Vajnaand Joe Eszterhas as an earnest homage to theirhomeland and displays the spectacle and slick storytelling techniques theylearned in Hollywood.
As such, the film is aboutthe most commercially accessible a Hungarian-language production could be toaudiences outside Hungary - which is to say, it is a stirring epic with a realchance of making an impression in international arthousesand perhaps beyond.
It's surprising that Hungarychose not to submit Children Of Glory as the country's choice for the foreign-languageAcademy Award. Although the final selection, White Palms, is a finely crafted film, its chances of scoring anomination are slim, whereas Children Of Glory possesses the strong emotions and historicalsignificance which the Academy foreign language committee traditionallyfavours.
The film depicts therevolution in parallel with the story of the water polo competition at the 1956Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, where Hungary defeated the USSR in thefinals on Dec 6 - already the subject of documentary Freedom's Fury, which Vajna executiveproduced.
The story begins in 1955with an earlier water polo match in the USSR where the Hungarian team isunfairly penalised so the Soviet team can claim victory. We meet team star Karcsi (Fenyo) and his bestfriend and team-mate Tibi (Csanyi,from Kontroll)as they pick a fight with the arrogant Soviet players in the locker room. Whenthey return to Budapest, Karcsi is taken in forquestioning by the Secret Police and instructed never to provoke Sovietsportsmen again.
The following October, Karcsi and Tibi get caught up in therevolution on the streets of Budapest, not for reasons of political convictionbut because Karcsi is attracted to a bold youngstudent from the university called Viki (Dobo). He and Viki play a centralpart in the uprising which gets violent at the National Radio Station.
Karcsi gets more involved with the fight for freedom thanhis family or water polo coach would like and he is prepared to abandon theOlympics so he can remain in the armed struggle. At the same time, he and Viki engage in a passionate love affair.
By the end of October, therevolutionaries believe they have succeeded in ousting the regime and anindependent government is formed. Although he is reluctant to do so, Karcsi is persuaded by Viki torepresent Hungary at the Games. After he has set off for Australia, however,the Russian tanks roll into Budapest and smash the resistance, killing 5,000Hungarians and imprisoning 12,000, of who 300 are subsequently executed.
Karcsi and the team fight and defeat the Soviet water poloteam, but Viki finds herself captured, imprisoned anddoomed.
Vajna hired local film-maker Goda,whose previous feature was entertaining romantic comedy Just Sex And Nothing Else (2005), todirect Children Of Glory and she hasa confident handle on the political drama and the sporting action as well asthe love story. Vajna also scored a coup in securingVic Armstrong as action unit director. The English veteran, who has coordinatedaction scenes for James Bond, Terminatorand Mission: Impossible movies bringsan in-your-face authenticity to the street battles of the revolution, most ofwhich were shot on the original sites where they took place in Budapest. Again,it's unusual to see such high production values in a Hungarian-language film,and they serve to heighten the emotional charge of the film.
The water polo conceit,while entirely true, is less successful a dramatic device than the highs andlows of the battles themselves. Although the Olympic final serves to give somesense of victory to the revolutionaries, the lasting image of the film is oneof tragedy.
For that reason, the filmhas strong contemporary resonances. Not only is it a timely look at the meaningof "freedom", but it is a stunning reminder of how the rest of the world, andthe US in particular, abandoned the Hungarian people in their hour of need.
Fenyo, a local star who acted in English in Sam Mendes' Jarhead last year, is a likeable andcharismatic romantic lead in the film. Dobo throwsherself into the part of Viki with enthusiasm,although she is too ethereally beautiful to be entirely convincing as thefilm's angry voice of rebellion.
General Business Affairs
Film And General Productions
Andrew G Vajna