Hungry Hungry Hungarians!

swie001Watching a black-and-white “neorealist” film about homeless war orphans struggling to survive in devastated post-war Hungary might not be everyone’s idea of a fun way to spend an evening, but Somewhere in Europe (1947) actually exhibits far more warmth and humour than you might expect. I originally picked it up because, from the description on the back of the box, I mistook it for a film we were shown clips from at college (well over fifteen years ago)… in fact, it wasn’t the one I was thinking of at all, but the DVD was super-cheap, and I enjoyed it immensely, so all’s well that ends well!

To quote the plot summary: “Living by their wits and stealing to eat, a ragged band of scavenging children take refuge in a ruined castle, only to discover that it’s inhabited by an eccentric orchestra conductor who has been emotionally and spiritually destroyed by war. Both children and adult find a renewed sense of community and hope until a bitter encounter with “civilised” society proves it’s as cruel as ever”. According to far better informed buffs, much of the imagery and moralising in the film comes straight out of the socialist propaganda handbook, which may explain why I dug it so much, being a bit of a “pinko” myself… although I can’t say I was happy with all their assertions. The scene of the kids happily toiling away to repair the castle is all well and good… until the gang’s leader, Peter, takes an axe out of the eldest girl’s hand and literally sends her back to the kitchen to rustle up some supper for the workers. Tch! Obviously the film is “of its time”, so there’s no point getting too huffy about such stereotyping… but it was a particularly disappointing turn of events, considering how effectively the earlier scenes had established Éva (played by Zsuzsa Bánki) as a confident and capable tomboy type, hardened by her experiences as a victim of sexual assault and betrayal. I accept that the average man is physically stronger than the average woman… but I’d be willing to bet that Eva was a far more capable carpenter than the younger boys, who were half her age and half her size! Apparently traditional gender roles were considered more important to the reconstruction effort than logic and common sense was…

That aside, Somewhere in Europe is an entertaining, solidly crafted slice of schmaltz, which ultimately proves to be as heart-warming as any Frank Capra flick… although I doubt Capra would have included quite so many scenes of underage scamps drinking, smoking and trying to string their elders up with nooses!

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
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