"Daniel Takes a Train", a 1983 Hungarian film released by Facets Video, was one of the first films to break the governmentally-imposed silence on the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. Directed by Pal Sandor, the film takes a look at one of the turning points in modern European history through the experiences of a young man named Daniel. And yes, there are trains involved.
Like any boy on the verge of manhood, Daniel is in love with the girl next door, Mariann. Their passion flits and flares while the world changes around them. When Mariann and her entire family disappear, Daniel vows to find them and reunite with his love. Of course, it's not that simple. The older men in the film seem to carry all the secrets even if the women deliver the innuendo.
Suddenly, lines get drawn in dark and strange places. Daniel and his friends discover that loyalties will be stretched – politics or family? Love or nation?
From the outside looking in, one has to admire the pride of nationalism, even as we visit a renaissance of it in our own homeland. On the final night before said train arrives, a dance hall filled with jubilant Hungarians sing what is evidently a national song detailing their inner resolve:
"We aren't distinguished and we haven't any dough. Neither can we eat enough to keep us on the go. But we're building a new world on a stomach that's hollow and that's the finest job of all!"
Honestly, the first viewing of this film left me uninspired and confused. The second time around, I really got into the writing – one of the few benefits of sub-titles. For example, check out this small quiet scene between a young man and a young woman during the revelry. He approaches her and says, "You're pretty." "Mmmm?" she hums. "May I kiss you?" he asks. She sways a quiet laugh and he adds, "So many desires come to nothing." She raises her chin and they kiss. My God, it was so beautifully simple, I almost missed it.
Let's face it, while wars destroy everything in their path, they make for years of cinematic reflection of the greatest care and quality. Another great scene shows old enemies who have suddenly found themselves at the same table. One comments, "This food's getting cold, we have to eat it." A heavy silence. He goes on, "Before leaving table, my uncle always used to say, 'What's been paid for must be eaten.'" Then, everybody digs in. So, for this film, I would say, allow room for digestion.
© 2004 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 10/10/01
Daniel Takes a Train
Hungary - 1983