“Kills on Wheels” (“Tiszta szívvel”)
A Different Look at Disability
Attila Till’s’ “Kills on Wheels” is not a “serious and issue-based” film dealing with disabled people, it takes an entirely different approach and mixes genres to give us the kind of energy we rarely see in films like this. The story follows two disabled teenagers who have a chance encounter with wheelchair-bound ex-fireman Rupaszov who is an enforcer for the mafia. The three soon form a tight bond and become an unlikely group of assassins. However, when Rupaszov’s boss decides that he doesn’t want these interlopers, a course is set that will change everyone’s life.
Till is determined to change the narrative that much of mainstream cinema spins about the disabled. There are no real victims here but rather real, living human beings who drink, smoke and desire something more out of life.
Here is a Hungarian hit man thriller in which the central protagonists are disabled. It becomes a unique black comedy thriller. Our two genuinely disabled, and genuinely talented lead actors, Zoltán Fenyvesi as Zolika and Ádám Fekete as Barba, give us quite a ride. They are tired of being on the receiving end of everyone’s pity, and here we see them as flawed, angry, and often unsympathetic human beings. They have been living unfulfilling live in a rehabilitation centre. They are both talented artists and they have dreams of breaking into the comics business, but there is little prospect of changing their lives. Zoli in particular faces a grim future, as a life-threatening condition requires expensive surgery yet he steadfastly refuses to accept the money for the procedure from the father who walked out on him and his mother years earlier. Things change dramatically when a newcomer arrives at their clinic, Rupaszov (Szabolcs Thuróczy), a former firefighter who was paralyzed in the line of duty several years previous, Rupaszov hasn’t adapted all that well to life in a wheelchair and has spent some time behind bars. He takes the other two men under his wing. Things get somewhat sinister when Zoli and Barba inadvertently cross paths with Rupaszov while he’s at work, doing hits for a local Serbian crime boss. Soon enough, Zoli and Barba are earning some cash on the side helping Rupaszov out on his assignments, but it doesn’t take long for the perils of a life of crime catch up with them.
“Kills on Wheels” is seen from the perspective of the disabled leads, with the able bodied characters – most notably Zoli’s mother (Monika Balsai) and Rupaszov’s ex-girlfriend (Lidia Danis) as supporting players.The killing is offset with a macabre sense of humor and while it doesn’t make fun of its protagonists’ ailments, but it doesn’t deny the inherent absurdity of the scenario. There is quite a
climactic twist which I’m not about to reveal; though it is clearly hinted at throughout. Much of the action takes place around a rehabilitation center where Zolika and Barba Papa have spent much of their young lives. Barba has with what appears to be cerebral palsy, Zoli with a worsening curvature of the spine that will, within a few years, crush his internal organs. Janos Rupaszov is just out of prison and doing odd jobs for Serbian gangster Rados (Dusán Vitanovics), and a share of the money he’ll pay for eliminating rivals could certainly help. Of course, Rados doesn’t exactly want more people knowing about the details of his activities.
Writer/director Till is careful to let the subtext of being handicapped inform a lot of the characterization without often resorting to monologues and direct explanations; Rupaszov’s anger and confrontational nature is likely different from Zoli’s in large part because he lost the use of his legs rather than never having it, and he’s more likely to blame the rest of the world for things than himself. Much of these characters’ stories are left to the audience to figure out.
The film opens with Rupaszov being in the middle of a brawl in an all-handicapped prison ward making us wonder if Hungary has enough felons in wheelchairs for this to be real. Similarly, the dogs that Rados keeps around are not just an affectation. There is also a great scene involving a very specific bit of training that gives a unique bit of texture to a crime story that would be wholly unremarkable if nobody was in a wheelchair or scooter.
Zoli wrestles with the idea of accepting charity from his long-absent father, even if the alternative is a likely death sentence. Its interesting, conflicted work that will stay with the viewer after the house lights go up.