26 January 2013 | edmund-marlowe
The purest breath of fresh air
A poetic version of the autobiographical novel of the same name by the Hungarian Jewish film critic Béla Balázs, brilliantly depicting the conflicts over changes come to a provincial town in Hungary at the end of the nineteenth century, including the screening of the first motion picture there. These are seen through the critical and idealistic eyes of 12 year-old Herbert Bauer (as Balázs was then named), played by blond Zoltán Csoma.
I saw this film in California thirty years ago when Mr. Rózsa himself presented it to discuss with the audience afterwards. The Cold War was still raging and though communism was not mentioned, it was quite an experience for a foreigner to see the unintended ideological challenges presented for Americans by a story told without the usual compromise towards their sensibilities. When a deeply puzzled young Herbert asks his best friend why he intends one day to emigrate to America and his friend replies "to get rich", Herbert exclaims with heartfelt disgust something like "You would abandon your country and your family for money?!" and there was a distinct squirming in seats around the cinema. Afterwards, Rózsa took questions from the audience. Some Hungarian Americans had come along and displayed the rabidly ignorant, bigoted nationalism only too typical of immigrant communities in the United States: one raged at length against the film's depiction of discrimination against racial minorities, insisting that no one except the Hungarians themselves had ever been discriminated against in the Hungary of that era.
The greatest culture shock came, however, when the director talked of what inspired him most about his film, proclaiming his love for his young star Zoltán and his fervent admiration of his beauty. A silent tremor shook the cinema, though Rózsa's innocence and sincerity as he said this were blatantly obvious enough to be realized by even an audience immersed in mass hysteria over attraction to children, and no earthquake ensued.
As I can only therefore imagine the director intended, Dreaming Youth is foremost an unabashed celebration of the beauty of one boy. However, it is by no means just about his physical beauty, remarkable though that is, but also about his beauty of spirit and the beauty of boyhood itself, especially at that critical age.
There is no film I would like to see a second time more than this, and for many years I have looked out in vain for a DVD of it.
Edmund Marlowe, author of Alexander's Choice, a boy's love story set at Eton, www.amazon.com/dp/1481222112