Children of Glory: Chronicle of Hungary’s Failed Revolt

(Szabadsg, szerelem)

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hungarys failed revolution against its Soviet oppressors, director Krisztina Godas Children of Glory (“Szabadsg, szerelem”) traffics in war-movie and sports-movie clichs that are only occasionally successful in presenting a rousing portrait of a people yearning for freedom.

Children of Glory tells the story of Karcsi Szab (Ivn Feny), the smug, handsome leader of the 1956 Hungarian water polo team. With the Melbourne Olympics fast approaching, the cocky Karcsi wants a gold medal–especially if he can win it by defeating the hated Russian team.

Although Karsci despises his countrys Communist government, he only becomes interested in politics when he meets Viki Falk (Kata Dob), a passionate member of Hungarys revolutionary youth movement, who wants the Soviets out of their country. At first, Karcsi is more interested in bedding Viki than joining her cause, but once he sees how the Communist regime treats the protesters–shooting and killing unarmed men–he impetuously quits the polo team to join the resistance. Later, when the revolutionaries seem to have succeeded in overthrowing the government, Karcsi rejoins his team to face the Russian water polo team in Australia for the Olympics.

Based on a story by the mega-successful Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) and the documentary Freedoms Fury about Hungarys 56 water polo team, Children of Glory examines Hungarys path to emancipation in different arenas: the world of competitive water polo and the war-torn streets of Budapest.

At first, Children of Glory seems to be a classic model of the inspirational sports movie genre, wherein a hard-working group of underdogs rally to defeat a seemingly overpowering foe. Opening with Karcsi and his team as they lose to Russia in a match thats rigged by a pro-Soviet referee, the film initially bears a strong resemblance to the 2004 American drama Miracle which documented an equally pivotal Olympic contest between a powerful Soviet hockey team and its democracy-loving counterparts. But then Children of Glory intriguingly changes course, pulling Karcsi out of his world of privilege and into the thick of the Hungarian revolution.

Unfortunately, once Karsci becomes involved with Viki (and, by extension, the youth movement), his motivations grow increasingly suspect. After establishing how deeply Karsci cares about winning Olympic gold–he has dreamed of such glory since he was eight–the movie too easily allows him to quit the team and join the resistance fighting. As one of Karscis friends warns him, no woman is worth such a life-changing shift, and Goda and her team of screenwriters fail to make a convincing argument as to why his attraction for Viki, a woman he just met, would be enough to abandon his childhood ambition.

Further pushing the limits of credibility, Karsci doesnt just join the cause, but also take up arms against the Soviets. Despite the fact that he dislikes the Russians and that he witnesses them kill one of his closest friends, his swift transition from pampered sports hero to grubby resistance soldier feels more like a story contrivance than an organic personal transformation. In these moments, Children of Glory is a rather generic war-in-the-streets melodrama as Karsci and Viki run from Communist troops while rallying their fellow protesters not to give up hope.

With the revolution seemingly accomplished and the Soviets in retreat, Karsci returns to his water polo team as if the middle section of the film had never happened. (In addition, the scene where his team eagerly accepts him back after he quit earlier in a self-righteous huff misses a few emotional beats for the reconciliation to seem credible.) The final act of Children of Glory plays out like a standard sports film, where the brave underdogs finally best their Russian archrivals.

The gaps in Karscis character motivation are even more disappointing since Fenys portrayal of the polo-playing hotshot starts out so promisingly. Feny gives Karsci the right balance of unsinkable confidence and bottomless charisma theres no question why Viki would first find him insufferably arrogant but then eventually succumb to his charms. But once the script starts asking him to make questionable decisions, Feny doesnt have enough skill to make his characters transformation believable.

Dob, a European model who has made a bumpy transition to film in forgettable duds like the recent Blood and Chocolate, is passable as the antagonistic Viki. In a role that de-emphasizes her glamour and requires a certain amount of grit, she manages to convey an initial hardness that slowly melts away once she falls for Karsci.

Director Goda demonstrates competence with crowd scenes during the Hungarian revolution, as well as an ability to shoot tense water-polo matches without resorting to high-gloss, MTV-style tricks. (However, perhaps Vic Armstrong, credited as action sequence director, deserves the praise more than Goda does.) Nevertheless, Children of Glory breaks no ground in either sphere; the prevailing feeling while watching the film is that the storys dramatic structure is overly familiar, relying on simple staples of human drama sports and war to create any reaction. For a film that wants to salute Hungarys rebel-rousing spirit, Children of Glory is far from revolutionary.

Credits

Running time: 120 minutes

Director: Krisztina Goda
Production companies: C2, Cinergi, Flashback Productions
Executive Producers: Sandor Demjan
Producers: Andrew G. Vajna
Screenplay: Joe Eszterhas, va Grdos, Gza Beremnyi, Rka Divinyi (story by Eszterhas)
Cinematography: Buda Gulys, Jnos Vecsernys
Editors: Eva Gardos, Annamaria Komlossy
Production Design: Jnos Szabolcs
Music: Nick Glennie-Smith

Cast

Karcsi Szab (Ivn Feny)
Viki Falk (Kata Dob)
Tibi Vmos (Sndor Csnyi)
Coach Telki (Kroly Gesztesi)
Karcsi’s Mother (Ildik Bnsgi)
Karcsi’s Grandfather (Tams Jordn)
Eszter Hank (Viktria Szvai)