World Cinema

Fateless (Sorstalanság) directed by Lajos Koltai

Fateless_poster_405x571 A Holocaust movie based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same title by the Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész, who wrote the screenplay…

Before I started this, I felt that I have had enough of Holocaust movies . For anyone who has been fed on Hollywood fare for a long time, a natural impulse is to compare any concentration camp movie to Schlinder’s List, which, as I have realized in time to be melodramatic and a one-sided portrayal (Hollywood would make us feel that only Jews died in the camps). The overdoing of the topic has unfortunately given license to Israelites to claim the mantle of victims – so that they can do to Palestinians what Hitler did to them.

But a few minutes into the movie, you realize that it is different. It has a quietness to it, almost an indifference to it, as if you are watching it from a distance. There are no gunshots, hectic action or any bravado. It populated by people who don't really know what's going to happen next, who feel that nothing terrible can really happen, believing in their own luck and following the herd – something that is all too human and completely real. The father is called for labour camp and is given a farewell dinner. No one can really fathom where he is going, beyond a vague notion of dread.

This is a movie that is almost a quiet reflection of how people behavefateless during times of unimaginable horror – survival by any means for those who are caught in hell and denial by those on the outside.

For me, the most beautiful part of the movie is the last quarter, when our protagonist comes back to his homeland, a home that has changed and not only due to the bombed out buildings. The movie before this is about how different people try to survive – some by ruthlessly practical, some by having a dream (like walking on the streets he has left behind), some by turning to religion and some by compromising. Morality and ethics, construct of a peaceful society ceases to exist in the face of extermination at any moment. In the midst, flashes of humanity sometimes sparks, if only for a few moments…

fateless-6 The last part brings to mind the last part of “All quiet on the western front”. A person who has suffered something that is beyond understanding, realizes that outsiders can be curious, be in denial or be sympathetic, all without ever understanding. The outsider expects explanations in normal day-to-day terms, which the insider is incapable and ultimately unwilling to provide.

György realizes that he has to come to terms with it himself and has to try to find a ‘future’, as he is advised by all those who keep saying that its ‘all over now’. Everyone wants him (and by reflection themselves) to forget what has happened and look ahead. The fate of the victims and survivors…

What you take away from this movie is the feeling that there is no point in pointing fingers at those who ran the camps. We are betrayed as much by our own people (the camp overseers, the policemen whofateless2 rounded up the Jews were all compatriots) as much by the invader. The greatest criminal is the art of forgetting that is perfected once the crisis is over.

The film is shot in beautiful chrome and has some stunning camera-work. There are not as much words spoken as emotions generated by the lights and shadows. You realize that sometimes words are truly insufficient to make the  mind grasp – we are left with only visuals that can penetrate.

A narrative that is a commentary on how we grapple with something we don't understand and which we are then unwilling to remember, unless we mythologize and glorify.

The drowned and the saved sometimes share similar fates…


World Cinema

Gloomy Sunday — A Song of Love and Death/ Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod directed by Rolf Schübel

gloomy_sunday_front As someone might have guessed, the title takes from the most infamous suicide song in history – “Gloomy Sunday”, which was composed in Hungary in the 1930s; a composition that supposedly drove many to suicide.

This movie is a fictionalized account of the time of composition of the song. The song is central to the narrative – right down to the last twist in the tale. Two men – one rich and worldly restaurant owner, the other a young and struggling pianist fall in love with the same woman and she incredibly falls for both. This gives rise to a somewhat troubled threesome relationship united by the irresistible love that the two men have. Eventually the two men grow to respect and admire each other. In the meantime, the pianist composes “Gloomy Sunday”, an instant hit that propels both the composer and the restaurant to fame; but which starts to trigger the suicides as well. This troubles the composer who tries to understand the message that the song is trying to convey, almost as of it has become an independent identity of its own. That message is something that the viewer interprets in different ways at different times in the story.

But this is exactly when the Germans invade Hungary and the ‘Finalgloomysunday Solution’ begins to start its roll call. The three get caught in a game that ultimately proves beyond them. The story ends in a tragedy and ultimately in a revenge plot many decades in the making.

The movie is brought alive by some great acting. The plot never sags in its ability to deliver sudden twists and turns and it has romance, friendship, heroism, betrayals and tragedies mixed together. The characters are given enough flesh to make them well-rounded and believable. The two very different characters of the men is brought out well, as is the reason why she loves them both in different ways. Erika Marozsán as llona is fairly delectable her looks are enough to assure you that men can and will live and die for her. The last fifteen minutes or so in the movie, were for me, had some of the best moments, not to mention the surprise at the end.

This, incidentally holds the record for being the longest running movies of all times. I now know why!!