One day, an Australian corporation started a gold mining operation in the neighbouring country of Romania but failed to take into to account the fact that the Romanian climate is quite different from Australia’s, meaning that the cyanide waste should be have been stored differently than in Australia.
The result: a major environmental disaster occurs when 20,000 tons of cyanide seep into the Tisza River in 2000. One of the (many) sad consequences is that the seepage kills fish, ruining the livelihoods of the fishermen by eliminating their source of income.
This is the background for Inheritance that candidly and captivatingly handles one of the dark sides of globalisation: major Western companies that do business in countries with low-wage work forces yet that are indifferent to the accidents this causes – being far away from home.
But the owner of the Australian company probably didn’t expect one of the Hungarian fisherman affected by the pollution to show up at his office one day and ask for compensation. That is what the charismatic protagonist Balazs does eventually. Inheritance is structured around Balazs’ struggle and his development from a quiet fisherman into a man who stands up alone against the authorities and the big company to fight for justice. He shows impressive determination during the film, when he accompanies Peter Hegedus to the mine in Romania and learns, firstly, that the company’s waste storage hadn’t been changed, only waiting for the next disaster to happen, and, secondly, that the claim of compensation from the Hungarian government doesn’t include a single penny for the fishermen. This leaves a pretty powerless group of fishermen along the river to file their own lawsuit against the mining company – not an equal game.
So he becomes determined to go to Australia to confront the company even though neither his wife, his parents nor the other fishermen believe it is of any use. But Balazs, who had never even flown before, goes all the way to Australia, and Peter Hegedus helps him to set up the meeting with the CEO, who apologizes to him, but make no promises of compensation.
Inheritance stands out on all levels. Not only is the development of the story quite remarkable, the protagonist is a treasure, but it is also a very cinematic film. Peter Hegedus, himself of Hungarian origin now living in Australia, feels personally affected and puts himself and his thoughts in the film, which works very well. The pictures are beautifully framed and the editing is smooth and elegant. A brilliant and also very important film.