The Fort (1979)
Film review #524
Director: Miklós Szinetár
SYNOPSIS: A company that renovates old military forts sets up a secret side hustle for bored, wealthy people: they can pay to take part in a military game where they get forty-eight hours to attack and besiege a fort defended by mercenaries. What they don’t realise is that the game actually uses real bullets, and when people start to die, the wealthy tourists must find a way to survive as the war gets a bit too real…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Fort (Az Erőd) is a 1979 Hungarian film based on the novel of the same name. The film is set in the near future, where a company posing as a renovators of old military forts has set up special war games that bored, wealthy people can participate in. The game gives the “customers” forty-eight hours to attack and conquer a military fort occupied by armed mercenaries. When these wealthy people realise that the game is real and that they can actually die, they must start to take it seriously. The film pitches itself as a dark comedy and satire, highlighting the absurdity of war, and how people romanticise or it if they’ve never been involved, or miss it if they have. The story sets up it’s premise very well, and explains the rules of the game, as well as negating any exploits or plotholes that the viewer might think of. The film is set in a near-future scenario, where the bored wealthy need some excitement in their lives, and so this is what they do: the film takes aim at those who would romanticise war, and how the people who do might actually fare. At nearly two hours, the film is a long one, and it has a fair amount of complexities in it that might make viewers confused. On the whole though, it’s a fairly decent story that has enough interest in it to make it watchable. The comedy is not the ‘laugh out loud’ kind, but a satirical look at the rules of engagement and how war puts people in certain positions, or makes them do completely absurd things. It is in this regard that I think the film is at it’s strongest. The stupidest people in the world (people with more money than sense), being put in the worse situation in the world (war) is cathartic viewing, and the film doesn’t try and humanise the cast, or make them have a revelation about their life: in most cases, it just makes them worse.
The cast of characters is large, and is even cut down from the novels cast. Interestingly, there is no main or central character in this film, and screentime is split fairly evenly between the cast, and giving us ample time to understand their background. This is crucial, because how they respond to the situation they find themselves in, and the reason for their joining, is a key part in showing how war would change (or not) these people. As mentioned, the volume of characters, and motivations can make everything a bit confusing, but you never lose the message of the film and the tone and message it is going for. When the players take over the fort and capture the mercenaries, they are at a loss of what to do, and have to try and organise themselves so that no one can betray anyone, and what to do with the prisoners. They start pairing up the sadists with the masochists at one point, and despite how silly everything is getting, the film carefully humanises everything that is going on without making you feel too sorry for the altogether unlikable cast.
You may have seen films like The Fort before with respect to the premise of it’s survival game setting, but it is still worth a watch for it’s clever comedy and well established characters. It gets quite complex, but there’s plenty of more straightforward moments that also get the message across, augmented by good camerawork and musical accompaniment. It’s a good film that, while it won’t appeal to everyone, has a good amount of fun satirising a quite serious subject.