A trippy fictional take on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets, “The Sun Street Boys” arrives a year later than a raft of other similarly themed features, but bests them all in sheer visual chutzpah. Maverick vet Gyorgy Szomjas’ first film in five years is a busy entree to the chaotic moment in Hungarian history that could see some B.O. light and tube heat on sheer imagination alone.
Based on the numerous local skirmishes in which ragtag gangs of youthful militia mounted pockets of resistance against the invaders, pic posits a romantic triangle in which the affections of spunky ticket inspector Juli (Kata Gaspar) are vied for by supposed b.f. Laci Toth (Sandor Czeczo), aka “Totya,” and by ardent suitor Gabor Revecz (Peter Barnai), known as “Mouthy.”
Meanwhile, on word from Juli that the Russians are coming, suburban Totya and Mouthy travel with their pals into the city and decide to defend a local cinema from the approaching panzers. “No guns in the cloakroom,” instructs kindly projectionist Uncle Dezso (Djoko Rosic). “And please behave, this is a decent cinema. We show good films.”
Armed only with purloined guns and Molotov cocktails, the gang of a dozen or so repels a tank and captures its two-man crew. Celebration turns to despair, however, when the second wave overwhelms their fragile defenses.
Cliched story is revived via fresh visual and aural elements. Perhaps recognizing the technical challenge of fusing iconic newsreel images of the period with his dramatic scenes, Szomjas has thrown caution to the wind, jumping willy-nilly from color to black-and-white, often within the same shot. There’s rather too much slow-mo and jump-cutting, but that’s to be expected from a movie that begins with the Jean-Luc Godard quote, “For a film, it is enough if we can photograph free people.”
Fueled by the tinny rock ‘n’ roll of Elvis Presley and Little Richard issuing from radios tuned to Voice of America, the kids alternate between nervous skirmishes and impromptu dance parties. A comic highlight follows the pitched debate over “Rock Around the Clock”: Some of the boys think it involves literally jumping around a timepiece, while a more informed compatriot advises them it means to dance all day long.
Tech credits are pungent, from the busy camerawork of longtime Szomjas compatriot Ferenc Grunwalsky to the improbably appropriate heavy-blues soundtrack of Gyorgy Ferenczi and Rackajam. “I love those stubborn lads,” says the grown-up Mouthy at film’s end, and Szomjas clearly does, too.