Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Palm of Your Hand

White Palms (Fehér tenyér), a Hungarian film about the competitive lives of gymnasts, opens this week in New York.
The film tells the true stories of gymnasts ranging from behind the Iron Curtain in the ‘80s, to current-day Canada.
The interesting angle is the actors and director are all gymnasts, and the stories unfolding on screen were derived from interviews about their own personal lives.
Director Szabolcs Hajdu (photo below) relays the story of his life as a young gymnast and features a warts-and-all story about his family life as an athlete under communist rule. His brother, Miklós Zoltán Hajdu, is also a gymnast and stars as a modern-day trainer who arrives in Canada from a stint in Cirque du Soleil to train a self-absorbed gymnast, played by Olympic gymnast Kyle Shewfelt.
The New York Times describes the movie this way: “An athlete recalls his troubled youth while helping to coach a talented but headstrong youngster in this drama from Hungarian filmmaker Szabolcs Hajdu. Miklos Dongo (Miklos Zoltan Hajdu) is a world class gymnast who competed in the Olympics before taking on his current career as a performer with Cirque du Soleil. Miklos has been hired to help coach some contenders for the Canadian Olympic team, and finds himself working with Kyle Manjak (Kyle Shewfelt), an unusually talented young man whose mood swings make him difficult to work with. As Miklos tries to help Kyle focus his talents and come to terms with his demons, he finds himself frequently looking back on his own early career as a gymnast in Hungary.”
Director Hajdu said it was difficult to coax some of the rougher, unpleasant scenes out of his brother and Shewfelt. Hajdu said neither wanted to relive some of the scenes they told him about during the interview/writing process. Once he had his screenplay completed, he didn’t share upcoming scenes with the two actors/gymnasts, for fear of scaring them from the project.
In the end all sequences of the movie are juxtaposed throughout, rather than told in a chronological order. The harsh training methods of the communist program appear grim against the more coddling style of Western athlete training. Yet the prima donnas of the Western system don’t fair to well against the dedicated communist athletes.

Szabolcs Hajdu

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