Szabadsag, szerelem (Freedom, Love, 2006, Hungary)

PosterIt was a rather divided and dividing experience to watch this movie. Dividing, because I ended up using four different lenses. And divided, because depending on which lens I used I got a different view.

One lens was the production quality. I was expecting more from the writers. After all the four person team included Joe Eszterhas , who wrote Flashdance and Basic Instinct and Géza Bereményi, who wrote three of the best Hungarian movies (Megáll az idö, Eldorádó, and Potyautasok) and many others, and song lyrics too. However this screenplay was not exciting. Events followed rather predictably.

Part of it might have been the director’s fault. When you get a shot of a gun handed to a child, you know that it will return later in some tragic form. But why make that shot so long that it is engraved in your brain. It is underestimating the audiences perception and memory.

The movie was directed by Krisztina Goda, whose “Csak szex és más semi” (Just Sex and Nothing Else) is a Hollywood quality comedy set in Hungary. When I say “set” I mean more than that, because she mixed very well Western style professionalism with Hungarian humor and situations. That’s what this movie was missing. The professionalism was just a notch below Csak szex… But that notch made it feel like a made for TV production. Despite that it obviously had big budget compared to most Hungarian movies.

Which leads me to the issue of the producers. One of them Andrew G. Vajna, who produced several Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. To be fair he also produced quality dramas and several Hungarian hit movies as well. The other person listed as producer is Tamás Zákonyi S., whose work I am totally unfamiliar with. Clive Parsons, whose name I did not recall either was the co-producer. IMDB tells me that he produced Breaking Glass and Britannia Hospital. These two movies were important for me in my teenage years, so I was happy to see his name showing up here. But the executive producer was Sándor Demján. He is either the richest man in Hungary or very close to it. This is his first involvement with any movie production. I assume his money ensured that the movie can happen at all. I do not read Hungarian film related journals regularly, so I do not know the full background story how he got involved. I listed the producers, because I was wondering what combination of their powers and money created this mixed level of production. I do not have the answer, so they all deserve credit in it.

My second lens was emotional. I saw street fights amongst the kind of buildings I remember walking a lot amidst in my childhood. This filled me with a sense of nostalgia. For some reason I haven’t been to those areas of Budapest since I moved to the US. I am not sure they still exist. I also enjoyed the student meeting in the lobby of the Technical University, also known as “a K epulet aulaja.” I passed it plenty of times, when my mother was teaching there and when I went to underground theater shows on the upper level of the same building. (Don’t you love having an underground place on the 4th floor?) There were not too many other outdoor shots in the movie. I guess it would have been expensive to re-create the look-and-feel of the whole city. Some major locations of the revolution though were present.

The other part of the emotions the movie evoked to me relates to my Hungarian-ness and relation to history. I have a basic knowledge of what happened in 1956. I feel that the fate of the country would have been very different if … If Suez would not have happened right then, if the Soviets would not have come, if … I feel sad that these ifs turned out differently. The movie reminded me of this sadness. On the other hand I think of the revolution as an amalgam of forces. All sorts of people with all sorts of ideologies were involved in the fights. Including leftists, rightists, anti-semites, religious… So I am not sure I could have supported the revolution had I lived then. The regime which they were fighting against was certainly bad. But the visions of the future the fighters presented were not homogenous. I do not know what kind of government and political system would have followed a successful revolution. As you can see I have mixed feelings about 1956. My emotional reactions also include the 30 year cover-up. My grade and high school years officially it was still called anti-revolution. I never fully understood the concept. But I remember when in 1986 some of my friends commemorated the 30th anniversary of the revolution in their own way. I haven’t thought of them for a long time, so the movie brought that up too.

This all relates to my third lens: history. I am not convinced enough that the movie was historically accurate enough. I am sure to a large extent it was. But the devil is in the details. For example I mentioned some of the kind of people above who fought. Some were left out from the movie. The whole (well-documented) anti-semitic tone was not mentioned. Also my understanding was that the Soviet troops who have been stationing in Hungary were sympathetic to the people and their cause. I thought that they refused to shoot at the crowds and only the freshly brought in troops did that, who had no prior experience with the country. But the movie showed the older soldiers shooting at us as well. (Yes, I know that I suddenly used “us” and identified myself with the targets. That is also part of my emotional baggage or my Hungarian identity if you wish.) As I said, my knowledge of the era is rudimentary, so I cannot vouch for my accuracy. But I left with a sense, that maybe the movie distorted the events, beyond the dramatization necessary for making a movie work.

Which leads to my final lens: how the movie is used in current politics. I really enjoyed that it contained original radio speeches with documentary value. However at one point I felt that it was fabricated. The fact that a short sentence was formulated exactly the same way that became infamous in recent Hungarian politics made me suspect so. “Hazudtunk ejjel, hazudtunk nappal” means more or less “we lied every night, we lied every day.” The current, socialist prime minister used this phrase in a speech to a small circle of his party’s members in the spring of 2006. The recording was leaked a few months later. This was the catalyst that ignited real street fights between citizens and the police in the fall of 2006. Sure there were plenty of other reasons. Other parts of the aforementioned speech, where the details of the lies were mentioned, the unpopularity of the Socialist party due to their policies, the provoking semantics and tactics of the main opposition party, the growing acceptance and tolerance of far right rhetoric being some of them. But those four words were used as focal point for hatred.

Some segment of the political palette feels in Hungary ever since that a new revolution is imminent and the current government, along with the Socialist Party has to be removed, if necessary with violence. For these people the movie gave unexpected ammunition. It enabled them to compare the situation in 1956 to that of now. Both in ’56 and in 2006 the protestors were met with state sanctioned violence. The Socialists/Communists were in power in both cases. For me the similarities end, but for them that’s where it starts. The level of violence were drastically different on both sides in the two historical era. 50 years ago half the country moved against the regime. Last year, at the height of the fights, when the TV station was taken over for a few years, a few hundred people were fighting at most. (And I question the motivation for most of them. A lot of them seemed to be soccer hooligans, who were in for it for the fight itself.) 50 years ago thousands of people died. Last year nobody died because of the fights, although there were serious injuries.

Overall I find it unfortunate that the provoking sentence was included in the movie. Do not get me wrong I find a lot of the policies of the current government unacceptable. But the alternative offered by those who want them out is even worse from my perspective.

That’s pretty much all I can say about the movie. I see that I managed to write up my thoughts about a movie, without mentioning what it was about. Let me fill you in quickly. The movie combines the real events of the 1956 Hungarian revolution (that was squelched by Soviet troops two weeks later) and the Melbourne Olympic Games (where the Hungarian water polo team won the gold medal against the Soviets and than most of the team members decided not to go back to Hungary) with a fictionalized stories of individual characters, including a compulsory love story.

One more word, before I sign off. The title of the movie (Freedom, Love) comes from a 1847 poem, written by Petofi, who was a lead figure in the 1848 revolution. It roughly translates:

Freedom, Love!
This two I need,
For my love I sacrifice,
For freedom I sacrifice,
My love.

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