1945 – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Ferenc Török
Writers: Gábor T. Szántó, Ferenc Török
Stars: Péter Rudolf, Bence Tasnádi, Tamás Szabó Kimmel
Set in Hungary in August after the end of the war, the film depicts the arrival of two Jewish men, one young and one elderly, at a village railway station. The village appears to be in an isolated location. They have with them two coffin-like boxes which are placed on a horse and cart. A wedding is about to be celebrated but all is not well between the bride and groom. The presence of the two arrivals unnerves the villagers who are deeply suspicious of them as the apparel of the older of two is clearly Jewish. Their appearance re-awakens memories of shameful behaviour by some of the villagers in the recently ended war about which they would prefer to forget. Some of them have obtained by dubious means property that was once owned by Jews. One villager has sought oblivion in the bottle so as to assuage his guilt. Most are far less fastidious.
The mission of the two visitors remains a mystery to the villagers but they are resentful of their presence. The villagers’ own daily petty jealousies and infidelities together with their downright duplicitous behaviour is shown as the slow progression through the village of the two visitors behind the horse and cart. It all moves slowly to a denouement where the negative and hostile demeanour of the villagers is blindsided by the behaviour of the two visitors.
The use of black and white makes the slow and steady walk of the visitors through the village appear to be an alien activity. It is like as if they were walking in some devotional foreign procession. The soundtrack increases the sensation that there is a hostile attitude to the visitors in the village and that something unpleasant and violent is about to occur. A violent act does indeed take place but it is not what was indicated by the hostile atmosphere in the village to the two visitors.
This is a powerful document in relation to collective denial. It is about how a community comes together to forget its guilt in order to protect the ill-gotten gains of its behaviour. There are one or two individuals of courage who believe the past cannot be denied. Their bearing witness to the evils of the past comes at a price. No doubt every country which has gone through a violent conflict within its citizenry has these stories which are rarely if ever told. Most communities for a variety of reasons choose to bury them.
Ferenc Török does a service to all by looking at a society with a critical eye who chooses to hide its collective guilt. It is a measured film. It tells a rarely told human story gently. The result is very powerful.