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An Athlete Doing Battle With His Past (The New York Times)

An Athlete Doing Battle With His Past (The New York Times)

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By MATT ZOLLER SEITZ
The term “sports film” doesn’t do justice to the director Szabolcs Hajdu’s movie “White Palms,” a punishing, beautiful drama about a troubled 30-something Hungarian gymnast who gets a job as a coach training 2001 Calgary Olympic hopefuls. The film is shot and edited in an austere, quasi-documentary style reminiscent of that of films by the Dardenne brothers (“The Son”) and cast mainly with skilled gymnasts who perform their own routines.
The term “sports film” doesn’t do justice to the director Szabolcs Hajdu’s movie “White Palms,” a punishing, beautiful drama about a troubled 30-something Hungarian gymnast who gets a job as a coach training 2001 Calgary Olympic hopefuls. The film is shot and edited in an austere, quasi-documentary style reminiscent of that of films by the Dardenne brothers (“The Son”) and cast mainly with skilled gymnasts who perform their own routines.
“White Palms” draws on the experiences of Mr. Hajdu, who studied gymnastics as a child, and his brother, Zoltan Miklos Hajdu, a veteran gymnast who now performs with Cirque du Soleil and who plays the movie’s hero, Dongo. The story cuts, “Godfather II”-style, between present-day scenes of Dongo struggling to coach a gifted but arrogant Olympic hopeful (the Olympic medalist Kyle Shewfelt) and flashbacks to Dongo’s own training in Communist Hungary, where child athletes were hazed and often physically abused.
The sequences depicting a young Dongo and his classmates being terrorized by their coach, a brute who wields a fencing foil as if it’s a riding crop and berates his charges as “whores,” are difficult to watch. But they’re essential to the construction of this psychologically penetrating film about a man, still young, whose childhood was devoid of innocence, and who now struggles not to replicate the behavior that stunted his emotional growth.
Opens today in Manhattan. Written (in Hungarian, with English subtitles) and directed by Szabolcs Hajdu; director of photography, Andras Nagy; edited by Peter Politzer; music by Ferenc Darvas; production designer, Monika Esztan; produced by Ivan Angelusz, Gabor Kovacs, Agi Pataki and Peter Reich; released by Strand Releasing. At the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 1 at the Museum of Modern Art. Running time: 100 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Orion Radies (the 10-year-old Dongo), Silas Radies (the 13-year-old Dongo), Zoltan Miklos Hajdu (the adult Dongo), Gheorghe Dinica (Puma), Kyle Shewfelt (Kyle), Andor Lukats (Father), Oana Pellea (Mother) and Jozsef Vasari (Uncle Imre).
http://movies2.nytimes.com/2007/06/20/movies/20palm.html?ref=movies