In 1916, ethnic Romanian Apostol Bologa is a Lieutenant in the Habsburg Army and he reports for duty on the front lines determined to do his duty. Upon his arrival, he meets a fellow officer, Captain Klapka, and informs him of the upcoming execution of Lieutenant Svoboda who tried to desert to the enemy. Lieutenant Bologa shows his satisfaction at having been a member of the Court Martial that convicted Svoboda to death by hanging. After all, they all took an oath of loyalty toward the Habsburgs. Despite Bologa's loyal bravado, the fact that their enemy is the Romanian Army doesn't escape him. The Romanian lines are just a few yards away and being a Romanian himself Bologa longs for his native Romania. More and more Bologa agonizes over loyalty and desertion to his Romanian brethren. His friend, Captain Klapka, reminds him of the severe penalty for desertion.Written by
Lt. Apostol Bologa could feel none of those qualities. Due to a districting quirk, he ended up on the wrong side in the Great War, a Romanian on the side of Austro-Hungary. Feeling like a traitor, he tries to redeem himself somehow... and thereby hangs a heartbreaking tale.
"Forest Of The Hanged" is an exceptional film on all levels. It played at the Romanian Film Festival at NYC's Lincoln Center last week, so I was probably the only Irishman at the festival but I'm glad I went (happily, the picture was sub-titled). I had no idea the Romanians were such advanced filmmakers - I don't know what I was expecting, actually. What I saw was acting seldom seen on the big screen, and a directing job so competent and nuanced I was emotionally exhausted at the end of the film. In fact, the director played a key role, and was one of the best performers in the picture. The sets and the photography were superb - I think perfect is a better word.
The film is similar in theme to 1957's "Paths Of Glory" but delves even deeper into the psyches of its characters. Although it is a war picture there are very few battle scenes and concentrates mainly on motivations and consequences.
If any IMDb reader gets the chance, go see it. I don't know how, though, as it's not available in any format except the 35mm print I saw it in. It's not a feel-good picture, but I can't miss the chance to recommend one of the all-time great pictures nobody's ever heard of. Incidentally, the running time is 154 minutes (2hrs 34min), not 1hr 54min - be prepared for an extra half-hour over the IMDb site run time.
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