10 February 2006
Dir: Szabolcs Hajdu. Hungary. 2006. 100 mins.
Szabolcs Hajdu's film casts a jaundiced eye over the world of sports prodigies. A grim and disenchanted portrait of how one young gymnast is almost ruined by a gruelling training programme and the insatiable expectations of his parents, the film almost runs out of steam in the second half, saved only by a feel-good ending that is sure to win over audiences.
Winner of the best director prize at the recent Hungarian Film Week, the picture has already been invited to several international festivals, while TV sales are its best prospects.
Partially inspired by the director's own childhood, the film begins with burnt-out gymnast Miklos Dongo (played by the director's brother Zoltan Miklos Hajdu) looking for work in Canada while harbouring ambitions to get back in shape. He gets the job of coaching of a rising star (Shewfelt), a spoiled brat who doesn't take instructions and ignores his trainer, despite the latter's attempts to form a bond with the youngster. The film intercuts this narrative with Dongo's own history, when. as a ten-year-old (Radies). He is tutored by a disciplinarian, Puma (Dinica), who whips his pupils for the slightest error, and his subsequent escape as a teenager to become a trapeze artist.
The film is at its most compelling in the flashback section, where young Dongo and his talented but terrified friends are humiliated, terrorized and brutalized by a trainer whose main goal is to break down all mental or physical resilience and mold them into docile performing monkeys. It is sharply photographed, cut and edited, and benefits considerably from young Radies' expressive face as well as the blood-curling presence of veteran actor Dinica.
But the moment Hajdu starts drawing parallels between East and West, the script falters and stretches credibility, leaving too many questions unanswered why do Dongo's parents accept his decision to give up on the Olympics and join the circus? How can a seriously injured gymnast regain such perfect form? Thankfully, Hadju manages to generate considerable sympathy for his lead character and this saves the day.
Katapult Film, Filmpartners
Zoltan Miklos Hajdu