Forced March Movie Review

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Sometimes revisiting a film through its re-release years later, can create not just a renewed resonance, but a uniquely different importance. And this would seem to be the case with the theatrical release once again nearly two and a half decades later, of director Rick King’s 1989 cross-cultural Holocaust biopic, Forced March.

The film within a film traces the tragic life of revered leftist Hungarian Jewish poet, Miklos Radnoti. Sent off to forced labor camps under the Nazi regime in Hungary during World War II, Radnoti was subsequently shot and tossed into a mass grave, where his poems were later found buried with him when his body was retrieved following the war.

Forced March stars Chris Sarandon as Ben Kline, a Hollywood action star who signs on to travel to socialist Hungary to play Radnoti in a Holocaust period drama. But Kline, whose own parents were victims of the Holocaust in Hungary – including a mother he never really knew who died there – becomes emotionally overwhelmed by Radnoti’s life and fate.

And to such an extent, that the line between reality and drama, – and his own identity and his character’s – begin to blur on and off set. Until Kline starts to insert his own feelings and reactions into the material he acts out during shooting, rendering the director furious. In particular when Kline – more accustomed to playing heroic Hollywood roles where characters traditionally prevail over villains and surmount evil – cannot fathom Radnoti and other Jews succumbing to their fate without defiance or resistance.

Though the film settles on a point of view in this moral quandary, opposing the actor’s compulsion to battle the tyranny at hand as he’s more accustomed to doing in his Hollywood movies, rather than resignation and death. Imploring instead that “the most we can do for those who died, is to understand them. Otherwise, we’re accusing them.”

The re-release of Forced March has been explained by the producers as a response to the resurgence of Neo-Nazis in Europe today. But the context is quite different, as a reaction to the widespread economic crisis that has brought massive unemployment, homelessness, hunger and misery to large sectors of the enraged European population. And manifested as primarily brutal right wing attacks against immigrants residing there, and competing for dwindling economic resources.

But curiously of interest as well, are the social and cultural contradictions Hollywood brings to the table with this renewed interest and examination of Forced March in the present. And that is the warped values inherent in Hollywood ideology, and which rather dangerously extend into and politically plague US society.

That is, the troubling notion of American ‘exceptionalism’ spoken of more recently, relating to the US government. And the idea with unmistakable connections to Hollywood, that this country has the unquestionable entitlement and authority to decide right and wrong in the world. And a unilateral obligation to impose those moral values, by whatever military force it deems necessary.

Forced March is being re-released at the Quad Cinema in New York City on November 1st. More information is at quadcinema.com and forcedmarchfilm.com

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.