|Scarlett Johansson as Suzanne Sandor|
An American Rhapsody
In the darkest days of the Cold War, a Hungarian family sacrifices wealth and privilege to escape to the West and gain freedom from Communist repression. Amid the chaos of their late-night border crossing, their youngest child is left behind. They go on to build a new life in America, while in the old country a peasant family raises Suzanne as if she were their own. But Suzanne's true mother never stops fighting to bring her to America. After five years of persistence she wins her fight. Suzanne comes to America, greeted by people she's never met who say they are her parents. As Suzanne grows up to be a rebellious teenager, she must deal directly with the mystery of her past. Only by going back to Hungary, by crossing the border once again, on her own terms, is she able to find herself and to find her true home.
This is the writer/director, Eva Gardos' own story. It begins with the young actress Scarlett Johansson, cast as Suzanne, standing on a bridge in Budapest. The year is 1965. "I was 15 and my life was already falling apart," she says, "so I came back to Hungary where it all began." What follows is an extended flashback to 1950. A married couple, Margit and Peter, played by Natassja Kinski and Tony Goldwyn, have to escape from Hungary. They have two young daughters and can only take the older one who is five years old. They have to leave the baby behind because it would be too dangerous if the baby cried. We see their escape and feel their tension -- bribing guards, running across a field, traveling in a train dressed as peasants. We see their love for their baby and the distress when they find out that their plans for having her.
What follows is perhaps the strongest part of the film as the child who knows only the peasant family as her own and who doesn't speak a word of English, is suddenly taken from her idyllic childhood and thrust into a life in a small Los Angeles suburb. The young actress who plays the 6-year old Suzanne, Kelly Endresz-Banlaki is wonderful. I really felt the confusion and upset of the young child who misses her homeland and tries her best to adapt to her new life. These scenes are touching and mixed with comedy and pathos and I couldn't keep my tears from flowing. The scene suddenly shifts to nine years later. Suzanne is now a rebellious teenager in constant conflict with her mother. When she picks up a rifle and tries to shoot her way out of her locked bedroom, it is obvious she is in crisis. At her pleas, the family allow her to go back to visit Hungary. smuggled out to join them in Vienna are thwarted. To save the baby, the Grandmother, played by Agnes Banafalvy, makes arrangements to have the baby raised by a childless peasant couple, Teri and Jeno, played by Zsuzsa Czinkoczi and Balazs Galko. They come to love the little girl as their own and she grows up loving them as well. In the meantime, the Margit and Peter and their older daughter arrive in America. They never stop trying to get their younger daughter out by writing letters to public officials. Finally, after six years, they obtain permission to bring their little girl to America.
I enjoyed the film tremendously, felt emotion for each of the characters - the parents, the grandmother, the peasants who loved her, and even the older sister with her own form of sibling rivalry. Mostly though, I felt for the little six-year-old girl who had to adapt to a whole new way of life. The characters spoke both Hungarian and English, which added an authentic feel and the cinematography clearly depicted the contrasts between Los Angeles and Hungary. Throughout, there was also the feeling of the oppressive totalitarian system, which had divided the family. The ending was happy, although a little contrived, but it seemed appropriate. I can't think of any other way it could have ended. Recommended. By Linda Linguvic
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