Thursday, June 19, 2014

An American Rhapsody

Written and directed by Eva Gardos, An American Rhapsody is the story of a Hungarian family who fled the country during the emergence of Communism as they were forced to leave their infant daughter behind as she would eventually return to them only to become a lost teenager who would return to Budapest. Based on Gardos’ own real-life, the film is an exploration into a young girl who is caught between two different worlds and two different families as she tries to come to terms with her own identity. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Nastassja Kinski, Tony Goldwyn, Larisa Oleynik, Mae Whitman, Emmy Rossum, and Agnes Banfalvy. An American Rhapsody is a haunting yet powerful film from Eva Gardos.

Set in 1950s Communist Hungary through the mid-1960s, the film explores this world of a family coming apart through the most troubling circumstances as their eventual reunion would only cause a young girl to feel lost and angry over everything she’s been put through. Since this is a very personal film based on Eva Gardos’ own experiences as a child who was born and raised in Communist Hungary during the 1950s as she would be reunited with her own family years later in the U.S. The film showcases not just a girl who would be caught between the world that she had been raised in unaware of its political turmoil but also a family who were forced to leave her behind as the years to repair the damage of that discord only creates tension between mother and daughter.

The film’s screenplay does have a traditional three-act structure as the first act is about Peter and Margit Sandor (Tony Goldwyn and Nastassja Kinski, respectively) escaping Communist Hungary with their five-year old daughter Maria (Klaudia Szabo) as they would trek through its treacherous borders to find refuge in Vienna. The plan was that their infant daughter Suzanne would join them but Margit’s mother Helen (Agnes Banfalvy) puts a stop to it once she realizes what will happen to Suzanne during this transfer as she asks a family friend to find a home for her granddaughter while she would serve time in prison. Helen’s decision would be the catalyst for everything that goes on as she would see her granddaughter be raised by kind farmers in Jeno (Balazs Galko) and Teri (Zsuzsa Czinkoczi) as she would take Suzanne away from them and back to her family. Unfortunately, the reunion between Suzanne and her parents is filled with a sense of confusion for the young girl as she would grow into this rebellious teenager (Scarlett Johansson) who asks her father to return to Hungary to gain an understanding into everything that has happened to her.

Gardos’ direction is very simple in the way she presents the film as she starts it off with some exposition of Suzanne talking about 1950s Hungary as it was taken over by the Communists and the events that forced her family to leave the film as the first 15-minutes are shot in black-and-white with the rest of the film in color. Gardos uses some hand-held cameras to play into the looseness of America while going for something more low-key and eerie for the scenes set in Hungary as well as some notable locations in Budapest. The use of wide shots and close-ups allow Gardos to play into the drama. Particularly in the second half as the tension between Margit and Suzanne starts to come ahead which would prompt the latter to want to return to Hungary. Though there’s a few things in the film that does get bogged down by exposition over why Margit had decided to leave Hungary. Gardos is able to keep things simple in the way it would play into Suzanne’s development as well as trying to find herself in the two disparate worlds she lived in. Overall, Gardos crafts a very tender and mesmerizing film about a family trying to start over and bring back the young girl they left behind.

Cinematographer Elemer Ragalyi does amazing work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography for many of the scenes set in California while going for a more low-key yet desolate look for the scenes in Budapest which includes some of the black-and-white look for the scenes in Hungary in its first act. Editor Margaret Goodspeed does nice work with the editing as it‘s pretty straightforward while it has some aspect of styles in its dissolves and a few montages including the newsreel sequence about Hungary‘s fall to the Soviet Union. Production designer Alex Tavoularis does excellent work with the set pieces from the design of the barbed wire walls in the Hungarian border as well as the look of 1950s/1960s homes in America.

Costume designers Beatrix Aruna Pasztor and Vanessa Vogel do fantastic work with the costumes from the dresses the women wear including the 60s clothes that Suzanne and her sister Maria would wear in the film‘s second half. Sound editor Jane Tattersall does terrific work with some of the sound from the terror in the barbed wire borders to the sounds in the American locations. The film’s music by Cliff Eidelman is wonderful for its somber orchestral score to play into the drama while it includes some traditional Hungarian music that is assembled by music supervisor Denny Diante who would also include some classical pieces and songs by Elvis Presley and Gerry & the Pacemakers.

The casting by Elizabeth Lang is brilliant as it features some notable small appearances from Colleen Camp and Lisa Jane Persky as American neighbors Margit befriends, Vladimir Mashkov as a Russian immigrant that Peter works with, Timothy Everett Moore as Suzanne’s American boyfriend Paul, Zoltan Seress as a family friend of Peter and Margit who would be the lone connection the family have back in Hungary, and Emmy Rossum as Suzanne’s friend Sheila whom she likes to smoke and drink with. In the roles of Suzanne’s sister Maria, there’s Klaudia Szabo as the five-year old, Mae Whitman as the more Americanized 10-year old version, and Larisa Oleynik as the 18-year old version who deals with Suzanne’s rebellion as well as what their mother wants. In the roles of the young Suzanne, there’s Raffaella Bansagi as the infant Suzanne and Kelly Endresz Banlaki who is terrific as the five/six-year old Suzanne who becomes unhappy in her new American surroundings.

Balazs Galko and Zsuzsa Czinkoczi are excellent in their respective roles as Jeno and Teri as the farming couple who raised Suzanne when she was young as they had a hard time with her departure while revealing to the older Suzanne about what happened to their farm and the dark realities of Communist Hungary. Agnes Banfalvy is superb as Suzanne’s grandmother Helen who would be the one that would cause the family to go through so much drama as she would eventually meet Suzanne years later as she would tell her why she made that drastic decision. Tony Goldwyn is amazing as Peter Sandor as Suzanne’s father who organized the escape as he deals with leaving his daughter behind while being the one who understands his daughter’s own culture shock and homesickness as he would have her return to Hungary.

Nastassja Kinski is wonderful as Suzanne’s mother Margit who tries to connect with Suzanne upon their reunion only to become very protective of her as it leads to mother-daughter tension. Finally, there’s Scarlett Johansson in a remarkable performance as the teenaged Suzanne as this young girl who feels lost as she wants to return to Hungary as she contends with her mother as it’s Johansson displaying a lot of angst and sensitivity to a troubled young girl in one of her quintessential performances.

An American Rhapsody is an excellent film from Eva Gardos that features a fantastic performance from Scarlett Johansson. Along with strong performances from Nastassja Kinski and Tony Goldwyn as well as a look into the world of European immigrants coming to America in unveiling the world they had to leave behind along with the sacrifices they had to make. In the end, An American Rhapsody is a superb film from Eva Gardos.

© thevoid99 2014

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