25 July, 2009

Fehér tenyér (White Palms) (2006)

Tough training

Gymnastics - not perhaps the most obvious subject for a genuinely engrossing, sometimes harrowing and uplifting drama, but there's no doubt that Hungarian writer-director Szabolcs Hajdu's Fehér tenyér (White Palms) (2006) has all of the above in spades.

Hajdu, who also made the excellent Tamara (2004) draws a stark contrast between the East-West traditions in East and West for training gymnasts - based on autobiographical elements involving his brother (who is the film's star, Zoltán Miklós Hajdu), brings us his tale of Olympic gold-medal standard gymnast Miklós Dongo, whose training begins at the age of ten (when he is played by Orion Radies) under a brutally strict, corporal-punishment backed regime of brutal corporal punishment from his trainer, Ferenc Szabó (aka 'Puma'), played with frightening realism by Gheorghe Dinica, and how this affects his later life when he has to adapt (with great difficulty) to far more liberal, holistic attitudes in Calgary, Canada.

His mother and father (Oana Pellea and Andor Lukáts) too seem authoritarian and distant, showing affection for their son only when they have a chance to show his athletic skills off to relatives, and Dongo is forced to 'perform' while, in the Canadian section of the film, the Western's system's shortcomings are also laid bare, with too little in the way of sanctions available to teachers to control unruly students. But, thanks to his growing friendship with a younger athlete, Dongo not only learns to look at the world through new eyes, but finds a part of himself that he thought had been lost forever.

It's emotion-laden, which is surprising considering its fairly dry subject matter, but never overplayed - a very enjoyable contribution from Eastern European cinema.

Awards: Click here for details.

97 mins. In Russian, English and Hungarian.

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