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Hostage: A childhood on the borderline


- The latest film by Juraj Nvota offers a singular view on growing up in the shadow of the Iron Curtain, during the months prior to the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia

Hostage: A childhood on the borderline

Both the Slovakian and the Czech film industries have been very prolific in recreating their common history on the silver screen, specifically the turbulent decades under the communist regime. The latest example of this tendency is Hostage [+see also:
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by renowned director Juraj Nvota (who had already portrayed this period in one of his previous films, The Confidant), which is screening at Cinekid in the Netherlands. It presents a rather bittersweet vision of the atmosphere on the Czechoslovakian-Austrian border in late 1967, as seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old, which sets the whole tone for the story. Hostage is a Czech-Slovak co-production supported mainly by three prestigious professionals: the director himself, screenwriter Peter Pišťanek (the writer of the book on which the story is based, and a former collaborator with Nvota) and producer Marian Urban, who brought his own experiences from that period to the script.

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During the months prior to the Russian invasion of the country, Peter Achberger (Richard Labuda) lives with his grandparents in a small village in Western Slovakia, close to the border with Austria. His parents in Vienna, where they managed to escape years ago, struggle to reclaim him, as Peter remained as a de facto hostage of the communist regime. Although at his age, Peter is not really concerned about politics, it is difficult to remain uninterested when he lives in one of the most fortified sections of the Iron Curtain, and the relatives of some of his best friends are actually leaders of the Party. At the same time, the protagonist is very close to his grandfather (Milan Lasica), his paternal figure at a time of changes that are too big and complex for him, who is determined to get the child safely across the border.

The narrative of Hostage resembles one from a children’s book, describing several situations in which the protagonist gets caught up in all sorts of trouble and adventures. Nevertheless, even when we see the story through the eyes of a child, it does not become meaningless or superficial in terms of its approach to the topic. Instead, this perspective imbues the situation with a tragicomic tone that makes the movie highly enjoyable for all audiences (especially for those people with links to the timeframe and geography of the actual events). Adults will find themselves reflected in the movie, feeling a sense of both nostalgia and liberation, while for younger viewers it will be an exciting tale and will give them a rewarding insight into the past of another country. Nvota’s work deals with several universal topics (namely childhood, friendship, oppressive regimes, etc), which may help everybody to understand what it meant to grow up in such a time and place.

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