Film Review: 1945

Mesmerizing, exquisite post-war drama about the impact two Holocaust survivors have on the small Hungarian village they unexpectedly return to is a perfect film of its kind but endangered in today’s oversaturated content world.
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For older generations of cinephiles, especially those hooked during the golden age of foreign cinema, and for younger filmgoers hungry for those rare transporting experiences high-quality foreign fare delivers, the haunting 1945 will be a must-see. Hopefully, the Menemsha Films release, which did the festival rounds and won several awards, has been spotted as a must-book for upscale theatres that will attract the obvious audience segments.

Hungarian director Ferenc Török adapted his film from Gábor T. Szántó’s short story "Homecoming" and co-wrote the script with him. The tale begins with preparations for an outdoor wedding celebration that a village big shot and official, István (Péter Rudolf), and his wife are hosting for their feckless son Árpád and his beautiful bride-to-be, an opportunistic village hottie who hasn’t quite given up on a past love.

There’s much excitement in anticipation of the wedding and dinner until the arrival to the area of the elderly orthodox Jew Sámuel Hermann (Iván Angelus) and his unnamed son, hauling several large valises and, rejecting help from vehicles, embarking on a short trek by foot into the nearby countryside. As news spreads of their arrival, local unease grows, as only recently the Nazis with the help of locals rid the village of its Jews. There was also the perk for collaborators and enablers like István of confiscating Jewish residences and businesses owned by the deported.

With the surprise return of the two Jews, villagers’ anxieties and questions arise, especially regarding where into the countryside the two men are headed, what they might be up to and what they are carrying in their large containers. An answer buzzed about is that they are hauling goods, maybe perfumes, for a new store they’ll be opening that might be competing with existing businesses. Also in air are concerns about what else might be reclaimed by the deportees.

1945 raises the discomfort level without flashbacks to the war, village snitching or roundups, as much is told via the mental and moral states of the post-war villagers now forced to confront the recent past and their own guilt.n Of course, dark clouds grow over the impending wedding and the post-war comforts, at the expense of the Nazis’ deportees, that many of the non-Jewish villagers have grown accustomed to.

At the end, the film’s astonishing reveal—unexpected and, in its simplicity, poignantly told—speaks volumes. In the matter of volumes also lies the film’s paradox: The Jewish elder and his son are the two main characters who dominate the plot but have little dialogue. Also unspoken are the Holocaust horrors that befell the village and references to the occupying Nazis. (In fact, it is the Soviet soldiers who are moving into the Eastern Europe area who get screen time.)

This film itself is a perfect storm of realistic immersion, including the fine black-and-white cinematography, rich production design and excellent ensemble performances. Like Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 Czech-lensed post-war classic The Search, 1945 is a reckoning with the evil and horrors of the Holocaust that pushes emotional buttons with a far more oblique approach. Oddly, 1945 is not the country’s bid for the Academy’s Foreign-Language Film consideration. (A film called On Body and Soul, apparently without U.S. distribution, represents Hungary.)

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