Fateless (review)

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How many times can we be confronted with the iconography of organized genocide before it stops feeling like a kick in the gut? I guess it’s at least one more than whatever number this desolate Hungarian film represents, because here again are the cattle cars, the dead-eyed people, the piles of abandoned luggage, the relentless gray, all presented with a grim elegance by Lajos Koltai, the cinematographer of Being Julia and Max making his feature directorial debut. And just when you’re starting to feel your heart harden out of simple self-preservation, there’s something different and extraordinary and surprising rising from this tale of one teenager’s concentration-camp experience. Based on Imre Kertész’s novel, it looks anew at familiar horrors through adolescent eyes, silently voicing the eternal teenage contention that adults are idiots and have hopelessly screwed up the world but by God, we’re not gonna live our lives like that. Even before the camps, 14-year-old Gyuri Köves (the remarkable Marcell Nagy) seems to be the only one who notices how willingly his elders acquiesce to illicit German authority, how easy they make it for their invaders to round them up. And the title, which seems a harbinger of hopelessness and despair at first, is in fact Gyuri’s cri de coeur — his parents and grandparents and all the clueless adults around him may go willingly to the fate God has decreed for them, but he won’t. If a million deaths, or six million, have, alas, become a statistic, they’ve also become a cinematic cliché, but by keeping a searing focus on one life, Fateless reminds us of the many larger tragedies.

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