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1945, Hungary 2017

Posted by keith1942 on October 21, 2018

This is a fine Hungarian film that, so far, does not appear to have enjoyed a proper British release. I was fortunate to catch it at the Sheffield Showroom. It was screened at the Berlin Film Festival, where it was popular with audiences, and it has screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Now Filmhouse, the Edinburgh based exhibitor have made it available. So far there is not a Sight & Sound review.

The film is set on August 12th 1945, commencing precisely at 1100 as a train arrives at the railway station in an unnamed village. The location seems to be south of Budapest not far from the Danube river.

The train deposits two figures dressed in black and accompanied by two large boxes. They have already arranged for a carter to collect the boxes and taken them into the village. Among the onlookers is a jeep containing three Soviet soldiers, signs of the Soviet occupation of Hungary following the defeat of the Nazi occupation. Whilst they are tangential to the plot the jeep constantly re-appears, reminding viewers of the state of Hungary at this moment in time.

The station master immediately identifies the two stranger as Jews. He races in panic to report this to the Town Clerk, Szentes István (Péter Rudolf). As the opening suggests this visit will bring up memories amongst the townspeople, and they turn out to be memories of apprehension, fear and guilt.

In the course of a couple of hours we watch as the two visitors follow the cart at a slow pace to the small town and to a disused Synagogue. Whilst this happens the town’s people are preparing to celebrate the wedding of Istvan’s son Szentes Árpád (Bence Tasnádi). But his bride-to-be finds that her former lover has returned after apparently serving in the Soviet forces; he is clearly characterised as leftist whilst István is a grasping entrepreneur. Árpád has a suppressed conflict with his father and relates strongly to his mother. But she, alienated in the marriage, appears to be addicted to ether sniffing.

István seems to have the strongest feeling of apprehension and guilt, shared by the town policeman and the local orthodox priest. As the film progresses viewers get a sense of what haunts these people from the past, though this is not fully explained until near the end of the film. Jewish inhabitants were taken away by the Nazi Gestapo in 1944. But prior to that István, the policeman and and the priest, were involved in a scam with the fascists to appropriate Jewishness property. The key property is a village store and pharmacy which is now run by István. The store sells perfume, an item which the station master believes may be in the visitor’s boxes; a use of props which is an example of the way the film uses signs to power the plot line.

What the inhabitants know and fear is only gradually revealed whilst the film never really gives us access to the feelings or motivations of the two Jewish men. Thus the viewer is caught up in the developing tensions in the town, whilst the characters wonder what the events signify. In the short space of time conflicts, suppressed emotions and, for some characters,, hysterical fears develop. There is illicit sex, a suicide and finally arson.

By the resolution both the inhabitants and the audiences find that their expectations have not been met, the outcome seems unexpected. But the internal conflicts of characters and town produces a dramatic resolution which is an apt punishment for the sins now exposed. With a fine formal logic the film ends as the two Jews and another character leave the station on another train, watched once more by the Soviet soldiers.

It is probably apparent that the film is influenced by classical Western. The obvious parallel would be Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) but there are also traces of High Noon (1952). This is empathised by the fine black and white cinematography by Elemér Ragályi. The flat Hungarian landscape, reminiscent at some points of the films of Miklós Jancsó, provides a suitable canvas for the varied journeys to the town. And the town itself, with its centre the village square where is sited the contentious shop, resembles a cauldron. The wedding preparations take place outside, on a hot summer day. But even with the interiors one senses the stifling atmosphere of a sultry day.

The director, Ferenc Török, is experienced but this is the first of his works I have seen. He displays an excellent control over the acting, the setting and such craft work as the editing. The script is by Ferenc Török, a writer of novels, stories and screenplays: this is an adaptation of one his own stories, ‘Homecoming’. The other contribution that struck me was the musical soundtrack by Tibor Szemző, a musician and composer with quite a few film titles to his credit. In the early stages of the film the music sounded rather slightly anachronistic but in the later stages the themes came together, suiting the revelations which the film had also withheld.

I think this film will take some effort to access at a cinema. But it will repay all such efforts.

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One Response to “1945, Hungary 2017”

  1. […] This will be a fine screening and possibly the only opportunity to see the film in its proper theatrical form. [A longer review is here]. […]

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