Review: ‘The Conquest’

Flatter than the Great Hungarian Plain, and flag-waving to a fault, "The Conquest" is a shoestring wannabe epic that lays to rest any hopes that the Central Euro historical costumer is due for a revival. Made to cash in on last year's millennium hoopla in Hungary, this Franco Nero starrer about the Magyars' arrival in Europe has clocked up sizable admissions locally since opening in December, but looks set to stay firmly in the Carpathian Basin, along with its subjects. Pic was not entered in the recent Hungarian Film Week in Budapest because, according to the creators, having "already won the appreciation of viewers ... by removing the film from the festival schedule they could allow other films to come to the fore." They shouldn't have worried. Script is based on the anonymous, 13th-century "Gesta Hungarorum" ("Deeds of the Hungarians") and charts how, in A.D. 896, the seven Magyar tribes in Central Asia get it together, elect a prince, Almos (Istvan Sinkovits), reputedly descended from Attila the Hun, and under his son, Arpad (Nero), make the move westward to a Promised Land that was once the center of Attila's empire.

En route, the Magyars fight their way across Russia, battle the Bulgarians and are (wisely) welcomed by the current inhabitants of the Carpathian Basin. Arpad loses his son but gains a nation, and on the way gets a lecture on Christianity by a Greek Orthodox priest (Laszlo Sinko).

Thematically, pic is a mix of “Westward Ho!” and “Moses,” with a contempo message for Brussels as Hungary attempts to join the EU. Cinematically, it’s a mess: Planned some two years ago as a big-budgeter to star Anthony Quinn, it ended up shot on hi-def and transferred to film, with a cast of tens rather than thousands, and Nero in the lead saddle.

There’s little development of the characters in between the minimally staged action sequences. Nero (dubbed by Geza Tordy) mostly gazes moist-eyed into the middle distance, muttering, “Beyond yonder hills lies Pannonia,” and recalling his dead wife, Reka (Klara Varga), in idyllic flashbacks.

Lensing is OK (though clearly of vid origins in its lifeless colors) but evinces no epic shape or overall visual style, especially in the 1.66 aspect ratio chosen. The synth score — by director Gabor Koltay’s brother Gergely Koltay — hammers away at an uplifting melody.

In the early ’80s, helmer Koltay made a mark with the music pics “The Concert” and “Stephen the King,” but 10 years later turned to the historical genre with the dramatically flat telefilm “Julianus.” “The Conquest” is a step down even from that.

The Conquest

Hungarian

Production

A Mokep release (in Hungary) of a Korona Film/Magyar Televizio production. (International sales: FilmExport Group, Rome.) Executive producer, Zsuzsanna Somlai. Directed, written by Gabor Koltay.

Crew

Camera (color), Peter Vekas, Sandor Csukas; editor, Lajos Halasz; music, Gergely Koltay; art direction, Matyas Varga; sound, Dolby Stereo. Reviewed at the Broadway Theater, Budapest, Feb. 9, 1997. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Franco Nero, Istvan Sinkovits, Viktor Fulop, Anna Szeles, Klara Varga, Laszlo Sinko.
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