Grandfathers And Revolutions
Australia 1999, 52 min.
Andras Hegedus was the Prime Minister of Hungary who called in Soviet troops to quash the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.
Peter Hegedus is a young documentary filmmaker, born in Hungary, now living in Australia, who travels back to his homeland to confront his grandfather about his past and to try and understand his role in the events of 1956.
This is a complex film, interweaving a number of historical and contemporary narratives. Forty-five years on, it attempts to show that the history of that period yields more than one story. Although the interviews with Andras are the focal point of the film, they are intercut with interviews with various members of the Hungarian resistance movement. Peter skilfully juxtaposes these two ideological strands, complicating any notion that there is one truth to discover about the events.
Through the interviews, archival newsreel footage and family photographs, the story of Andras and his rise to political power unfolds. He tells of how he discovered Marx and learned to “hate rich people.” As the interviews progress, his grandson starts to raise more difficult questions, seeking to find out exactly what Andras was responsible for. At one point he confronts his grandfather with an execution notice. His grandfather claims he had nothing to do with it, to which the reply is a relieved smile from his grandson.
But Andras is never completely exonerated. One of the former resistance fighters, Violet Cabrero, asks Peter to tape her asking Andras for an explanation of his actions in ‘56. The camera captures Andras’s face as we hear Violet compare him to Hitler. Andras is obviously moved by this, and although his answer reveals nothing more than we have already been allowed to see, he accepts responsibility for his actions. Violet nods her head; this is what she needed to hear.
This film also tells a broader story: about families coming to terms with their past. As Peter’s father notes, his grandfather played for a team who played a bad role in history, and they have to live with that burden. As Peter leaves Hungary he realizes that he will probably never know exactly what his grandfather did, but that he knows enough. He leaves a little less naive, but enriched by his experiences.
This is an engaging and mature film with plenty of natural drama and emotion. It stands as an interesting perspective on an important period of Hungarian history, but is perhaps most extraordinary for its moving portrait of a grandson getting to know his grandfather.