Director: Géza von Radványi
Starring: Artur Somlay, Miklos Gabor, Zsuzsa Banki, Abraham Ronai
Duration: 100 min.
A band of runaways and orphans of the war scour the countryside in search of food and shelter. They invade and subsequently get taken in by a musician and former concert conductor who's hiding out in a ruined castle. After their initial altercation, the gang accepts his guidance and he wins their respect by protecting them from the elements. However, disgruntled townsfolk want to chase away the gang who has been, in their struggle for survival, laying waste to their crops.
Somewhere in Europe also known as It Happened in Europe is a Hungarian film directed by Géza von Radványi. Essentially a propaganda film entirely financed by the Hungarian Communist Party, it was released in 1948 in the middle of the country's transition to Communism. It was selected by critics in 2000 as one of the Budapest 12, a list of the 12 best Hungarian films.
Usually wary of films with a blatant political message, this one turned out to be a pleasant and fascinating surprise, a simple and well executed story about a tragic time in history. It starts off almost like a silent film, with very little dialog and an emphasis on rapid cuts of heavily symbolic visuals and relies on the action on screen to propel the story along.
We follow a small group of orphans and runaways led by Péter (Miklós Gábor) because he is the biggest of the group, as they walk barefoot through the countryside in search of food and water. Along the way they meet up with others in the same predicament, and slowly their numbers grow, and eventually the group becomes a gang. We watch as they do what they have to to survive, robbing trucks and hijacking cars on the road, poaching livestock, and stealing crops from farmers. Sometimes they get away with it, and other times they are not so lucky. Eventually they take refuge in an old ruined castle until they come under attack by the local townsfolk.
The acting is very good for a cast consisting mostly of young children, and they are all quite convincing in showing their plight. There is also very little character development in the film, except for a notable flashback sequence involving Éva (played by Zsuzsa Bánki) a young woman pretending to be an orphan boy, as she confesses to Péter the sordid story of her past. Even the melodrama is kept in check as though there is a closeness to their relationship and plenty of opportunity for a romance to develop between Péter and Éva, we only see them share a couple of conversations.
Acknowledged as the first important postwar work of Hungarian cinema, Somewhere in Europe dresses up its socialist anti-war message in a film that shows its themes of brotherhood, determination, and duty in an encouraging light amidst a backdrop full of despair and devastation.