Sunday, January 28, 2007

An American Rhapsody

We watched An American Rhapsody last night on DVD. The children watched it, too - there was one brief violent scene where we covered some eyes.

A family is escaping from 1950s Communist Hungary. It's too dangerous to take their baby, Suzanne, over the border because she might make noise and give them away, so they make a plan to have her brought afterwards. The plan falls through and the baby is taken to the countryside to be raised by a childless peasant couple. Then, finally, the parents, settled in Los Angeles, manage to arrange for Suzanne, now six, to join them. They all try to take up where they left off, but of course, it doesn't quite work out that way. Eventually, Suzanne's feeling that she doesn't fit in in the United States or with her birth family takes her back to Hungary to see the couple that took care of her as a young child.

All of this is based on a true story, and the DVD includes some commentary by the woman whose story it is. The movie is terribly sad - I cried through most of it - but there are some funny moments. For example, the older sister "helps" Suzanne learn English by teaching her a crude expression which, of course, comes out of the little girl's mouth at the most inopportune moment. (OK, admit it, my MK friends - you've all done this, haven't you?)

The teenage Suzanne is played by Scarlett Johansson, who gives an amazing performance. Tony Goldwyn and Natassja Kinski are also very good as her parents. But the star is the little girl who plays 6-year-old Suzanne, Kelly Endresz-Banlaki.

I highly recommend this movie, especially to people like me who have lived in several different cultures. I always like stories about how people pass from one culture to another - what they keep and what they lose. It's fascinating to watch how the family interacts once reunited. You can feel the mother's misery as she tries to connect with this little girl that she has missed so desperately. The ending is satisfying as Suzanne has the experience all parents wish their kids would have - she comes to understand a little bit about what her parents have gone through, and therefore to forgive them for the mistakes they have made. "We've all made mistakes out of love," says a character in the movie. How wonderful if we can acknowledge that, and forgive, and move forward.

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