1945 movie review: a reckoning for the collaborators

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1945 green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A quiet horror movie about grief and regret as spiritual possession, about rationalization and denial as immorality. We don’t tell ourselves stories that whisper, as this one does, The Nazis had help. We need to.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

A small town in Soviet-occupied Hungary, August 1945. The war is finally over and life is getting back to normal. Or perhaps things will be even better: “a new world” is coming, the townspeople hope. This day is a happy one: Árpád (Bence Tasnádi) and Kisrózsi (Dóra Sztarenki) are getting married, and the groom’s father, István (Péter Rudolf), the town clerk and the most powerful man locally, is expansively generous: the whole town is invited, and on this morning of the celebration he is already handing out food and champagne to passing beggar veterans and the annoying Soviet soldiers alike. István is in his glory, and all is right with the world.

Meanwhile, at the train station several miles away, two men, one young (Marcell Nagy) and one old (Iván Angelusz), arrive, carting two large crates of, supposedly, perfume and cosmetics — perhaps for the drugstore that István owns? — and begin the long, slow walk in the summer heat into town. The stationmaster (István Znamenák) hops on a bike to ride ahead with his ominous warning: Jews are here. They’ve come back.

“The Jews” have no idea of the cesspool of guilt-fueled terror their arrival has stirred up.
“The Jews” have no idea of the cesspool of guilt-fueled terror their arrival has stirred up.

Writer-director Ferenc Török — working from the short story “Homecoming” by Gábor T. Szántó — is torturously slow to reveal why this seemingly innocuous arrival suddenly has the apparently contented town in an uproar, but we immediately have very dark suspicions. And, indeed, what’s to come is the town’s reckoning, at last, with itself, with its collusion in the rounding up during the war of their Jewish friends and neighbors, and with the unspoken-of guilt that has haunted the town since. The stark black-and-white of cinematographer Elemér Ragályi’s imagery here lends a sense of the spectral to the silhouettes of the two Jewish men on their journey into town, though they have no idea of the turmoil their arrival has caused. Their mere presence is an affront to what we soon learn is a smug complacency about the town and its self-congratulations on its survival of the war.

1945 isn’t just the temporal setting for what is a quiet horror movie about grief and regret as a kind of spiritual possession, about rationalization and denial as outright immorality. The title also captures a sense of the collective aura of culpability that hung over all of Europe that year (and beyond), as scenes like the ones we see here were surely repeated all over the continent. This complicity, this societal and generational guilt, is not something that has gotten much play in our art or our pop culture. We don’t tell ourselves stories that whisper, The Nazis had help. So in a veritable ocean of movies about World War II and about the Holocaust, this one is unexpected, and startling. And still relevant. The human inclination to collude with evil and tell ourselves we’re just being practical is not one that died with that war.

1945 is now in limited release in the US. See the film’s official site for current and future dates and cities.

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Mon, Dec 05, 2022 2:09am

Well the Hungarians were good allies of Nazi Germany so they had a lot to atone for