Zoli (Zoltán Fenyvesi) is a teenager in Hungary who stays with other disabled people of his own age and older in a care home, since his mother finds it difficult to look after him by herself, and the time is approaching when he should be having a major operation on his spine which will save his life. However, he's not entirely sure his life is worth saving, and prefers to lose himself in drawing, which is his escape from the world as he would dearly love to become a comic book artist. One day, a new arrival appears, a middle-aged gent who believes he will do some escaping of his own, from his wheelchair and be able to stand and walk again within three years - but their meeting is awkward.
This new arrival is Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy), who considers himself something of a rebel at odds with his condition, paralysed below the waist, and to that end draws Zoli and his best friend Barba (Ádám Fekete - short for Barbapapa, after the cartoon character) into a web of intrigue that teaches them harsh lessons but also offers them a fresh lease on life that they would never have dreamed of if they had not decided to befriend him. "Dream" being the operative word, for there were times here when it appeared the events we were watching were somewhat hard to swallow - just how did Rupaszov get the two pals out of the river after he pushed them in, ostensibly to murder them?
There was a reason for these lapses into strangeness, though they were always rooted in a realism that director and writer Atilla Till carefully cultivated throughout his yarn, equally careful not to patronise his characters and craft them as fully rounded personalities, a challenge his cast were more than a match for. The trouble was, so conscious of disabilities in the media being portrayed with a sense of victimhood, possibly Till went too far the other way, with his trio of heroes so determined to be independent and be their own men that you were all too aware of the manner in which they were consciously presented as a spiky, grumpy ideal for the disabled to take inspiration from.
Obviously life with that kind of physical (or mental) handicap will be no bowl of cherries, bed of roses, or whatever metaphor you preferred, but there was the sense that displaying your anger vocally and physically was a good way of getting those negative aspects out of your system - and into other people's, as seen here, which was not so helpful. Being muy macho and grim-faced spoke to a stereotype of masculinity that the characters were embracing as if to prove that while they did not have full control over their bodies, they remained one hundred percent manly men, discussing sex, getting up to cruel pranks in boys will be boys manner, and eventually turning to violence as Ruzsapov manages to snare the two friends into his underworld life of a hitman, since nobody would suspect someone in a wheelchair of wanting to kill them.
That's the reasoning, at least, and it carried Kills on Wheels, or Tiszta szívvel as it was known in its original Hungarian, quite some way, though you could not quite term the film as a thriller, it was more of a drama with action and comedy asides. The difference between the mundane world of Zoli's upcoming operation, his resentment towards his parents (dad left a long while ago), and the art that offers his own way out of drabness and constriction that his life would seem to be closing down into, and the more gritty gangster parts was fairly well integrated, so that we suspected this was not a wholly accurate depiction of Zoli's existence, but would not be confirmed or denied that suspicion until the last five minutes where all was revealed. It was certainly a grey-looking movie, Eastern European cinema's clichés of post-Communist torpor never far away from Till's approach, but unusual enough in subject matter, and rejecting going for schmaltzy sentiment, to generate curiosity though even with the qualified happy ending it was a downbeat work overall. Music by Csaba Kalotás.
[Eureka's Blu-ray has a trailer as an extra, and that's your lot. Picture and sound very fine.]