TIME STANDS STILL (Megáll az idö)(director/writer: Péter Gothár; screenwriter: Géza Bereményi; cinematographer: Lajos Koltai; editor: Mária Nagy; music: György Selmeczi; cast: Istvan Znamenak (Dini), Anikó Iván (Magda), Péter Gálfy (Vilmon), Henrik Pauer (Gábor), Sándor Söth (Pierre), Ágnes Kakassy (Eva, Mother), Lajos Öze (Bodor), Pál Hetényi (Pista, Father), Lajos Szabo (Headmaster), Adam Rajhona (Assistant Headmaster), Jozef Kroner (Form Master, Szombati), Maria Ronyecz (New Form Mistress, Piggy); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Péter Gothár; Libra Films; 1982-Hungary-in Hungarian with English subtitles)
“At times too awkward and enigmatic to fully be enjoyed.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
”Time Stands Still,” which is the title taken from a popular Hungarian song, covers events in Hungary taking place from 1956 to 1968. It’s a haunting period film about the effects on the next generation after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution by Péter Gothár, who co-scripts it with Géza Bereményi.
The film opens in Budapest in November 5, 1956, during the Hungarian uprising. The counter-revolutionist Pista leaves his wife Eva and two boys for Vienna, in a Red Cross truck disguised as a causality, rather than face prison, after they refuse to accompany him. These scenes are shot in a documentary style, with actual newsreel footage. The film then picks up in November 5, 1963, and the high school boys, Dini (Istvan Znamenak) and the elder Gábor (Henrik Pauer), are living with the traumas of the past and the pangs felt by their hard-working single mom. It’s now a post-Stalinist liberalization period and we witness the smoky bubbling atmosphere of the boys’ high school, eerily filmed by Lajos Koltai. In this gruesome setting, Gothár frames his cautionary story about the animosity building between the old-guard teachers and the seething students spurred on by listening to Elvis, drinking Coca-Cola, dreaming of the fruits of capitalism and living for the ongoing sexual revolution.
It’s seen through the eyes of the downbeat Dini, who has the hots for coed Magda (Anikó Iván). She’s a sweetie, the daughter of a dentist, who tempts him with her flirtatious ways. They secretly meet during dancing class. At home, Lajos Öze, a comrade of the boys’ father, gets out of prison and moves in with their mom. Hewarns Dini not to make waves: in class he should not raise his hand and never contribute unless asked, assuming all those asking questions are only trying to pump him for information because they are being pumped. The teen-agers hang around in cliques, act rowdy and peddle porno photos. When caught with such photos, Dini’s old-guard biology teacher (Jozef Kroner) lectures him that’s a shame how these photos debase women. Dini bites at this rebuff that sex is sacred and thereby loses Magda to his sexually liberated brother.
Times have slightly improved for those who curry favor with the ruling party and those who purge themselves from their former protests: many of the students vie to get into college, make the right connections to get ahead and strive to enjoy a better material life. But Dini and Gábor have a rougher road because of their father’s black mark he left on the family.
That suppression still exists is evident, as the biology teacher is fired for not being able to adjust to the new Budapest. The new teacher is a woman (Maria Ronyecz), who is more adept at being political and playing off the school’s power structure. Her unhappiness is evident at home, where her husband has mental problems and gets agitated when she has visitors. The radical student leader Pierre calls her a member of the living dead.
The film’s centerpiece scenario revolves around the headmaster’s speech celebrating the 1956 Soviet victory, which is interrupted by catcalls and shouts to play ”Let’s Twist Again” and other ridicules hurled by the boys over the intercom as they openly mock the speechmaker and break into laughter as he tries to glorify the Soviets as liberators.
Though filled with many wonderful small personal moments that reflect on the country’s nightmare under Soviet rule, the energetic film nevertheless doesn’t quite link the teen-agers sexual immaturity with the political transformation of the country as well as it intended. These disturbing events, meant to convey a bittersweet slice of life, were at times too awkward and enigmatic to fully be enjoyed.
REVIEWED ON 6/18/2005 GRADE: B –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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