Thursday, February 13, 2020

THOSE WHO REMAINED: Barnabás Tóth's post-Holocaust drama proves a quiet revelation

There's a scene midway along in THOSE WHO REMAINED -- a brief but deeply felt drama about Jewish survivors making their difficult way through post-Holocaust life (the time is 1948, the place is Hungary, now adjusting to complete takeover by the USSR) -- in which one of our two protagonists, a damaged, middle-aged doctor named Aladár, leaves photograph albums and a note for his young friend Klára, a teenager orphaned by the Holocaust, to find and peruse. The note tells Klára to look through the photos, but not to ask him questions about what she sees, for he will not speak about any of it.

These photos offer up what we have probably already surmised: They show us what Aladár has lost. And the scene itself proves a wonderful encapsulation of the manner in which this entire movie seems to operate. Not speaking any specifics regarding the horrors of the Holocaust (surely most of us adults have seen our fill of this, film-wise, by now), the film instead comes to terms with how those not-so-very-numerous survivors managed to deal with their ongoing trauma, pain and grief.

As co-written (from the novel by Zsuzsa F. Várkonyi) and directed by Barnabás Tóth (shown at left), Those Who Remained turns out to be one of the more unusual "Holocaust" movies to appear in a long while. The film is as quiet and subtle as are most in this genre, often by necessity, loud and overt. Tóth and his collaborators -- including some very fine actors -- pull us into the time, place and story slowly, carefully and surprisingly simply.

There are few stylistic flourishes here; instead, because we are told so little in the usual way via typical exposition, we must look and listen carefully to ascertain the necessary facts. However, alert film-goers will manage nicely, TrustMovies suspects.

The film is helped along remarkably well by its two leading performers (and literally by every actor who appears here, no matter how small the role). As the older doctor, Károly Hajduk (above) is the picture of damaged reticence, all the more appealing because he refuses to ask for sympathy -- from the other characters or from us.  He's courteous to a fault, kind, generous -- and often very near comatose. And we're with him all the way. This is one of the quietest, saddest and most appealing performances you'll have seen.

Klára, on the other hand, has taken her loss to heart in a very different manner. Angry, mouthy, lost, and very tired, she fends off feelings by negating just about everything. "Is there anything you don't hate?" the doctor asks her early on. "No," she replies in matter-of-fact fashion, and we do believe her. In the role, Abigél Szõke is mesmerizing -- alternately lovely and cringe-making. Klára is also exceedingly bright, and Ms Szõke captures this side of her very well, too.

So how, in a movie this quietly dark, do you reach a resolution that just may send audiences out of the theater walking on air? I would not have thought this possible, but Tóth actually brings it off by laying his groundwork so carefully and making all of it believable.

If the finale is everything you could possibly want, considering the point at which things began, because what we know of these characters, including the subsidiary ones eventually introduced (that's Mari Nagy, above, as Klára's aunt Olgi), we can actually buy into the film's sweet look at some hard-won happiness. No, we cannot change the past. But, yes, the future can be better.

Distributed in the USA via Menemsha Films, in Hungarian with English subtitles, and running just 83 minutes, Those Who Remained opens here in South Florida tomorrow, Friday, February 14, at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth and the Regal Shadowood; on February 21, it hits Miami at the AMC Aventura and Fort Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway; and on February 28 it comes back to Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters. The movie -- Hungary's submission to the recent Oscars celebration -- will surely play elsewhere around the country, so check back periodically by clicking here for updates.

Personal Appearances on Opening Weekend! 
Q&As with Director Barnabás Tóth following select screenings! Saturday, February 15th: - 12:30, 3:00, 5:20 + 7:35pm, Movies of Delray Sunday, February 16th: - 12:30 + 3:00pm, Movies of Lake Worth - 6:30pm, Regal Shadowood Monday, February 17th: - 12:30, 3:00 + 5:20pm, Movies of Delray (Schedule and Showtimes Subject to Change).

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