1945

 

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A rare opportunity to see a film spotlighting a neglected period in Hungarian history.

 
1945
  

Although this is a Hungarian film set in that country and in the year indicated in its title, a number of critics have opted to compare it with a western (in particular the 1952 classic High Noon has been evoked). In a sense that is understandable, even if the more apt western to mention is actually Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Like 1945, that film early on shows a train arriving at a remote station and ends with one departing and both works feature a community with a guilty secret determined to hide what now threatens to be revealed. In 1945, the train brings two Jews on an unknown mission but one that makes the villagers fear the worst, while in Bad Day at Black Rock it is a formidable American who arrives. But in each case what comes to light are criminal acts against outsiders, the killing of a Japanese American unfairly distrusted in the earlier film and the persecution and expulsion of Jews in this one.

 

This comparison may suggest similarities between 1945 and the recent Black '47 which portrays the sufferings of the Irish people in the 19th century but does it through a narrative akin to a spaghetti western. But, in fact, this is quite a different matter since, despite the details that bring westerns to mind, that element in 1945 is hardly more than incidental. Instead, this is very much a period film seeking an authentic atmosphere and opting, aptly enough, for photography in black and white to conjure up a past age.  We don't see many Hungarian movies here, but I am told that Ferenc Török's film is one of the very few to look at this period of Hungary's history: it's a time ahead of Communist rule in which possibilities for change might be opening up but which, in the event, were missed, due perhaps in part to the burden and consequences of wartime guilt still affecting society. To ask questions about this period is clearly of the essence here. That is confirmed by the fact that the origin of this piece is a short story of 2004 by Gábor T. Szántó who wrote the screenplay for 1945 with the director.

 

The period recreation is good, the acting competent and the subject matter undoubtedly worthwhile - all of which has led to considerable praise and indeed awards for the film. For myself, I would have liked to be more enthusiastic but the film, never less than interesting, did not impress me to the extent that the subject matter warranted. Taking place on a single day, the actions of the Jewish visitors lack the tension to easily sustain a feature film and, as though this has been realised, there is a secondary storyline involving a romantic triangle that looks set to be resolved by a wedding. That inevitably lacks weight compared to the main issue but takes up quite a lot of footage while the wide-scale guilt of the local inhabitants, much more crucial here, is brought out in scenes that are highly predictable. Some have seen in this piece of historical recreation a reference to the current world, to the growing rise in nationalism with its potential hostility to outsiders. That's possible, but again I have to say that I didn't really feel it. Nevertheless, I wouldn't want my reservations to put off those thinking of seeing this film. You may or may not come to share my view that it fails to live up to being the masterpiece that it could have been but either way its sincerity and individuality are beyond question.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Péter Rudolf, Bence Tasnádi, Dóra Sztarenki, Tamas Szabó Kimmel, Ági Szirtes, Jószef Szarvas, Eszter Nagy-Kálózy, Iván Angelusz, Marcell Nazy, Sándor Terhes, István Znamenák, Miklós B. Székely, Béla Gados.

 

Dir Ferenc Török, Pro Iván Angelusz, Péter E Reich and Ferenc Török, Screenplay Gábor T. Szántó and Ferenc Török, from Szántó's short story Homecoming, Ph Elemér Ragályi, Pro Des László Rajk, Ed Béla Barsi, Music Tibor Szemkö, Costumes Sosa Juristovszky.

 

Katapult Film-Filmhouse.
91 mins. Hungary. 2017. Rel: 12 October 2018. Cert. 12A.