Thursday, June 21, 2018

Trying to hide from a difficult truth

If you know anything about Eastern Europe in the days following World War II, little about the mournful Hungarian movie 1945 will come as a shock. Shot in black-and-white, the movie charts what happens when a Jewish father and son (Ivan Angelusz and Marcell Nagy) show up in a Hungarian village where the property of pre-war Jews has been appropriated by members of the local populace. The theft of property and businesses -- in this case, the local pharmacy -- has been "legitimized" by paperwork and legalistic flimflam conducted at the behest of the town's opportunistic clerk (Peter Rudolf). Director Ferenc Torok's movie sometimes takes on the feel of a Western, as it focuses on a town that harbors dark secrets. The two Jewish men, who say little, become accusers simply by turning up. They're not really characters; they're stoic symbols of rebuke. These Jewish travelers claim to have brought a shipment of perfume for the town's pharmacy but clearly have something else in mind. The townsfolk -- particularly its clerk -- fear that the two strangers will try to reclaim what rightfully belonged to the town's Jewish population, wiped out during the Holocaust. Questions of complicity come into focus as the town prepares for a wedding. The clerk's son (Bence Tasnadi) is about to marry a woman who seems to be conspiring to grab some of the largess created by the sell-out of the town's Jews. Working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Gabor T. Szanto, Torok offers a somber primer on the complicitous betrayal of Jews in Hungry's rural villages, building toward the suicide of the town drunk (Jozsef Szarvas). Szarvas's character participated in the scheme to steal Jewish property and can't escape his feelings of guilt. Torok might have made room for a little more nuance as he observes the ways in which the town is rocked by exposure of the unacknowledged crimes that permeate all of its institutions, including the church. Driven by the agitation and anxiety of the town's populace, 1945 does, however, continue the exploration of an inexhaustible and inescapable subject: the human capacity for denial that threatens to devour historical truths that ultimately must be vomited up in painfully wrenching ways.

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