On the surface the Hungarian film “Team Building” (titled in English even in Hungary) is a simple film: employees go for a weekend “team building” retreat, where the unusual situation and their interpersonal relationships make things complicated. But it is a clever movie and it has three more additional layers of meaning.
The most obvious layer is about the consequences of the imbalanced power setup. The participants of this event are at a location they are not used to (city folks in the middle of an isolated forest inn) and in a situation they are not used to: being led by an “expert” in team building who barely speaks their language. The fact that his Hungarian is so poor is a symbol, that he is truly from another world: the cultural differences are deeper between him and his audience than the language ones. Tactics and conflict managing methods that may work elsewhere are at best meaningless in this Eastern European country and at worst are inadequate empty cliches that evoke hostility. The key to this struggle is how people react when they are presented with the “expert”, who in this situation has supposed to have power over them. Some embrace this imposed position, others mock and play along with it coyly, while there is one who vehemently opposes recognizing it.
This point leads to a slightly deeper layer, moving from the interpersonal to the personal level. A main theme of the movie is about the tension between authenticity and loyalty. If I am myself, with all that entails, where should my loyalties lie? To put it in another way: how much of a compromise is acceptable to maintain the consistency of one’s self-image. The firm that sent these people to the retreat expect ultimate loyalty from them. In return they may offer a shiny financial future, but in reality they just graciuosly allow eking out a living, if at all.
Which leads the deepest question the movie revolves around: who the real enemy is and how that relates to survival. The “expert” is an easy person to pick to hate, being a triple outsider (country of origin, language, position), and being an unlikable fellow on his own. Some might also think that a person can be one’s most influential enemy: the inner fights are hard to work through. But by the end we learn that the real problem is structural: it is the (capitalist?) system that is the cause of the suffering and puts even survival into jeopardy. This set-up, where the corporation is the overlord and the individuals are reduced to cogs in the wheel, is endemic and all one can try to do is walk out of it. For a while.
I know that the above was long on analysis and short on telling the story. For that watch the trailer below or read the summary from the production company:
To what extent does the nowadays so popular brainwashing referred to as team building help us find our way in everyday life? In what respect does it help us answer the fundamental questions of our lives? To what extent is a person from a former communist country capable of adopting the values dictated by this “brave new world”? And how much can a coach imported from a western country understand the sometimes far too Eastern European conditions? A film about a country, which conquered its freedom in 1989. Did it really succeed?