Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 23, 1996. Running time: 62 MIN.
With: Bela Bognar, Andree Bognar
In 1956, a young, Hungarian idealist named Bela Bognar took up arms against approaching Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest. It was a total mismatch, and he fled across the border, vowing never to return.
Docu “Personal Belongings” begins with the man’s trip back some 35 years later. The home movie framework and first-person perspective on the passage of time are given a novel twist by Steven Bognar, the subject’s son. With footage of the Hungarian journey a jumping-off point for wider issues, helmer presents universal, engrossing themes that are likely to spawn strong television sales for the hourlong film.
Bela, whose immigrant experience was better than most, made his way to America via Belgium, where he fell in love and married. The young couple set up their home in Madison, Wis., where Bela studied and eventually received science degrees that enabled him to lead the good life. But one can see from his association with other Hungarian expatriates that he never truly assimilated American culture. At the same time, his trip “home” reveals that too much has changed for him to feel welcome there.
Though Steven is mostly off camera, the viewer feels his frustration. He’s emotionally drawn to his father’s plight, but, apart from capturing it on film, there’s little he can do to resolve or assuage the man’s painful quandary. That sense of helplessness is both intimate and poignant. It sets the material apart from so many similarly themed chronicles.