White Palms (2008)

Director:  Szabolcs Tajdu 
Cast:  Zoltán Miklós HajduKyle ShewfeltGheorghe Dinica

Plot:  Miklos Dongo is an Olympic gymnast whose career was ended by an injury. He comes to Canada to begin a new life as a coach. 

Genre:  Drama / Sport
Awards:  - 
Runtime:  97min
Rating:  PG for some coarse language.

Hungarian director Szabolcs Tajdu’s new film White Palms has its moments of excellence in a fairly uninteresting account of the life and career of a national gymnast named Miklos Dongo.  Dongo is trained under a brutal and authoritative coach when he was very young. His life is changed when he suffers a serious non-sport related injury. 

He signs up to be a coach many years later and is forced to train Kyle Manjak, a young Canadian gymnast whose talent is immense but is lacking in discipline.  Should he lash out on his student with the same brutality shown by his coach?  Or should he stick to a softer approach?  In the end, he decides to set an example by training rigorously together with Kyle and qualify themselves for the World Gymnastics Competition. 

Tajdu presents White Palms as two narrative threads of different timelines with the central focus on the character of Dongo.  The present thread shows Dongo and Kyle together as coach and trainee respectively, and as opponents in competition. T he ‘flashback’ thread shows the anguish and misery suffered by Dongo when he was under his diabolical coach. 

Both threads run back-and-forth with each other and it is difficult to see what the director wants to achieve.  Only crossing the hour mark does White Palms become thematically clearer.  The two threads eventually converge into a rousing climax of slow-motion, balletic images that suggest the fickle psychological state of Dongo, whose past comes back to haunt him. 

White Palms concludes in an inferential manner that is slightly odd.  More questions will be asked than answers given out by the time the end credits roll.  It tries to explain the psyche of Dongo by further revealing his character’s actions.  Some may see it as a proper closure for the film’s lead character, but it is done half-heartedly that it loses most of its impact. 

White Palms is not quite consistent in terms of entertainment; it is sometimes resonant, sometimes a yawn. Yet it emphasizes rather successfully the importance of bonding in our lives and the courage to defend our dignity whenever threatened. 

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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