Monday, October 30, 2017

Post-Holocaust retribution, Hungarian-style, in Ferenc Török's elegant, bleak view of 1945


We've seen a lot of Holocaust horror, along with post-Holocaust family films and secrets-and-lies investigations about coming to terms with it all. What we've explored least of, perhaps, is tales of Jewish homes and property taken over by non-Jews after the various round-ups and deportations that took place in Nazi-conquered countries throughout Europe. (We got just a taste of this in Sarah's Key and certain other films.) This loss of property, though certainly not as important as the lives lost, is at the heart of the new Hungarian film 1945.

As co-written (with Gábor T. Szántó) and directed by Ferenc Török, shown at right, 1945 takes place in that particular year, after World War II had ended and, for the first time since the deportation,  Jews -- just two of them, actually: an old man and a young one (shown below) -- arrive by train to this sleepy little Hungarian town. Why have they come, and what do they want?

From the outset, it is clear that, however quietly and subtly the townspeople take this all in, they are, to a man and woman, hugely disturbed by the Jews' appearance. Yet it is also clear that they've been aware that, someday down  the road, this would most likely happen.

As the movie progresses, and the two Jews make their way slowly toward the town, the townspeople -- from the powerful town clerk (Péter Rudolf, below, left) down to the town drunk and some lowly housewives -- fret and finger-point, give in to guilt, hide their ill-gotten valuables and/or try to decide their best course of action.

Russia is already controlling Hungary, though the iron hand of its insane Communist dictator has not yet made its power fully felt, yet it is clear that the citizens are already taking sides. And today happens also to mark the wedding of the town clerk's son (Bence Tasnádi, above, right) to a pretty local girl (Dóra Sztarenki, below, right), of whom the groom's mom (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy, below, left) heartily disapproves -- for reasons that will soon (and then later, too) become clear.

The journey toward town of the Jews, together with all the tsuris this causes the townspeople and even their priest, brings out the rather shocking inhumanity of man toward his fellow men, while setting the stage for a showdown of sorts.

And yet, throughout, 1945 is resolutely un-melodramatic. as it unfolds slowly and gracefully, if consistently fraught with fear and anguish. The elegant cinematography (by Elemér Ragályi) is often stunningly beautiful, with its final image as Holocaust-redolent as you could wish. I admit that the film moves slowly at times, and it sometimes scores its points a bit too obviously, as well.

Overall, though, 1945 proves a strong enough indictment of Hungary (and also of nearly all the Nazi-conquered countries) in its treatment of the Jews to warrant a viewing and the accompanying discussion that will surely arise.

From Menemsha Films and running 91 minutes, the movie opens in New York City at both Film Forum and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema this Wednesday, November 1. On November 24, it will hit the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Royal and Town Center, and then on December 1 in Philadelphia at Landmark's Ritz at the Bourse, followed by a limited nationwide release.

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