Thursday, April 19, 2018

1945: Stirring Our Collective Memory



1945 is a Hungarian film that uses the personal to focus on the highly charged topic of the holocaust. Just after the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the Soviets declared war on Japan, two orthodox Jews arrive in a small Hungarian town. They bring two boxes with them, which supposedly contain fragrances. Their arrival sparks panic and confusion amongst many of the locals who fear that they have come to reclaim their property.

The Jewish father (Miklós B. Székely) and son (György Somhegyi) say almost nothing, yet their silence says everything as they honor their dead family members.

During a Q&A session Director Ferenc Török has described the film as “a powerful, basic story”. Its black and white format carries the audience into the brief time between the holocaust and the communist decades. Our collective memory is jabbed by haunting images evoking photos and film from the immediate post war period.

The impact of the visual imagery strongly reinforces the key themes.

Hermann Sámuel (Iván Angelus) and his son (Marcell Nagy) arrive via train to a small 
village in Hungary full of secrets - Photo courtesy  Lenke Szilagyi / Menemsha Films

Two brief images of a photo album touch on a history of friendship and betrayal. Moreover, the use of smoke during the film connects poignantly to the holocaust’s crematoria.

The local authorities, in particular the town clerk, the police officer and the priest, seem to have been the leading collaborators with the Nazis. However, many others were complicit and benefitted by the removal and extermination of the Jewish community.

However, the villagers are divided, with families torn apart by the events of 1944. Some sympathised with and even helped their neighbours. Others are wracked by guilt for their part in the final solution. There are also those determined not to give up what is, for some, newly acquired prosperity.

1945 has an exceptional cast. Péter Rudolf as the powerful town clerk István and Eszter Nagy-Kálózy as his tormented wife Anna are outstanding. Apparently the pair has been married in real life since 1990. Another veteran actor, József Szarvas, gives a faultless performance as the tortured alcoholic Kustár.

Neither the cathartic climax nor the departing steam train, with all its distressing symbolism, brings real resolution. The coming clouds of communism hang over the community, with the “new world” promised by local Soviet sympathizer Jancsi (Tamás Szabó Kimmel) not far over the horizon. But that’s another story.

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