NEW YORK -- A sports drama possessing uncommon emotional depth and visual richness, Szabolcs Hajdu's "White Palms" is just stilted and pretentious enough to prove frustrating. This tale of the relationship between a Hungarian gymnastics coach still haunted by memories of his own repressive childhood training and his talented young protege was recently showcased in an exclusive weeklong run at New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Director-screenwriter Hajdu employs a complicated narrative structure to tell his tale, shifting back and forth in time between young Dongo's (Orion Radies, Silas Radies) training as a gymnast in Hungary during the communist era and his current situation training Canadian Olympic hopefuls in Calgary. The adult Dongo (Zoltan Miklos Hajdu, the director's brother) still is in prime physical shape, but his youthful experiences have emotionally scarred him to the point where he repeats history by striking one of his athletes.
Removed from his position, he is enlisted to privately coach Kyle (Olympic gold medalist Kyle Shewfelt), a talented but highly arrogant young gymnast. The two emotionally distant figures eventually overcome their differences and become friends, unified by their talent and sheer love of the sport.
The most powerful sequences in the film depict Dongo's brutal childhood training at the hand of his abusive coach (Gheorghe Dinica) and the indifferent attention paid to him by his insensitive parents.
Although the narrative doesn't always prove compelling, the film exerts a powerful visual hold, thanks to the beautifully filmed gymnastics sequences featuring the physically impressive lead performers. An element of irony is added at the conclusion, when we witness Dongo's eventual fate: performing for Cirque du Soleil.