Somewhere in Europe

Radvanyi Geza

Hungary, 1948



History, post-war movie, drama


WWII, orphans, the power of music, community
relations, heroism, self-sacrifice.


The first postwar Hungarian film, Somewhere in Europe (Valahol Európában), is set in the mid-40s and tells the story of a group of orphaned and discarded children who get together and fight for survival. To make ends meet they even vandalize and steal. A remote, ruined castle, the shelter of a distinguished musician whose career was put on hold due to war, becomes their hiding place. In the company of the conductor, the children are re-educated and introduced to socialist ideas and classical music. This is somehow reversing what seemed in the beginning as inevitable – sliding into a Lord of the Flies behavioral scheme. Situation goes out of hand when locals and suspicious authorities raid the castle, killing one of the boys. The cascades of rocks thrown downhill by the children in defence of the fortress is possibly an allusion to Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944). Without doubt, screenwriters Béla Balázs and Géza Radványi had another film in mind while writing the script: Nikolai Ekk’s The Road to Life (Putyovka v zhizn, 1931), a similar piece of Communist propaganda having to do with the re-education of wild Russian boys.
The first part of the film shows the boys and two girls coming together into a more or less cohesive group headed by the older Péter Hosszú (the charismatic and sensitive Miklós Gábor), who has been tossed out of reform school. Early on, there are numerous striking images, including angled ones, underscoring the children’s rootless lives in a world damaged by war, and ones leaning on symbols of shattered innocence. The film’s composition
and editing make us recall early Soviet cinema. There is a grotesque sequence showing a child, transfixed by terror, witnessing wax figures melting amidst flames, including one of Adolf Hitler. This passage, as well as a flashback wherein a girl recounts her rape by a German officer, are reminiscent of Silent German cinema’s expressionism. After the rape, the girl sees, through the window, her entire family being carted away.

Returning to the bedroom where the rape took place, she shoots and kills the officer. During the rape, the officer appears as a monstrous shadow. When being killed, it is again his shadow that we see. This brings in mind the vampire’s death in F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922).
The second part of the film focuses on the children’s interaction with the old man and culminates with the death of little Kuksi, who learned to play “La Marseillaise” on his harmonica. Péter Simon, is enormously effective as a tearjerker. He has taught the children “La Marseillaise” as an expression of freedom— a value, according to Simon, to strive and to fight for. A good deal of this part of the film is reminiscent of Hollywood’s Boys Town (Norman Taurog, 1938).
Both Georges Sadoul and the critical team of Garbicz and Klinowski found the first part of the film excellent while the second unrealistic and glib. In reality, both parts may be considered as equally flawed. The first misappropriates German expressionism whereas the second indulges in Hollywood-type sentimentality. However, the film’s strongest aspect occurs in its second part. It is its propaganda. When young Hosszú disparages “freedom” based on his experience out in the streets, Simon convincingly notes that this is not what freedom is supposed to be. “Poverty,” he tells the youth, “is the worst form of captivity”— not only a message in favor of the new order (the prevalent order at the time of the film rather than at the time in which action is set), but a sharp rebuke on capitalism, which generates poverty. That there would be little to no freedom for those disputing the Party line is conveniently excluded. Simon is scarcely a prophet.
Balázs and Radványi seem to believe that “La Marseillaise” is humanity’s highest expression on the idea of freedom and undoubtly they are correct. But, like much else in the film, they overplay it. Whether gang whistled or played on piano or harmonica, the tune is heard way too many times. By contrast, its single use in Jean Renoir’s La grande illusion (1937) is tremendous.

The writer

Béla Balázs, or otherwise Herbert Bauer, was the son of German-born parents. He began using the Balazs nom de plume in newspaper articles written before his 1902 relocation to Budapest where he studied Hungarian and German at the Eötvös Collegium.
Balázs was the moving force behind the Sonntagskreis or Sunday Circle. This was an intellectual group he founded together with Lajos Fülep, Arnold Hauser, György Lukács and Károly (Karl) Mannheim in the autumn of 1915. The group’s meetings were held on Sunday afternoons at his flat. By December 1915, Balázs had already commented on the group’s success in his diary.
He is perhaps best remembered as the librettist of Bluebeard’s Castle. He originally wrote the libretto for his roommate Zoltán Kodály, who in turn introduced him to the opera’s actual composer, Béla Bartók. This collaboration was taken further with Balázs writing the scenario for the The Wooden Prince ballet.
The collapse of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic under Béla Kun in 1919, forced Balázs to live for a long period in exile in Vienna and Germany and, from 1933 until 1945, in the Soviet Union. György Lukács, a close friend from his youth, became a bitter enemy during the ordeal of the Stalinist purges.
During his stay in Vienna, he became a prolific film critic. His first book, Der Sichtbare Mensch (The Visible Man) (1924), gave rise to the theory of German “film as a language.” Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin were significantly influenced by it. Balázs, also, wrote the screenplay for G. W. Pabst’s film Die Dreigroschenoper (1931), which led to a scandal and a lawsuit filed by Brecht (who admitted not having read the script).
A while later, he co-wrote with Carl Mayer, Das Blaue Licht (1932), and helped Leni Riefenstahl direct it. Riefenstahl removed Balasz’s and Mayer’s names from the film’s credits because they were Jewish. Somewhere in Europe (It Happened in Europe, 1947), directed by Géza von Radványi, is one of his most known films.
His last years were marked by petty domestic arguments and an ever increasing recognition in the German-speaking world. In 1949, he was awarded the Kossuth Prize, the most prestigious prize in Hungary, and he finished Theory of the Film, which was published posthumously in English (London: Denis Dobson, 1952). The Béla Balázs Prize was founded in 1958. This is an award for achievement in cinematography.



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