12 August 1945, 11 AM. Two mysterious strangers dressed in black appear at the railway station of a Hungarian village. In the shadow of Russian occupation, the people of the village are preparing for the wedding of the son of the clerk, but the bride's former fiance returns from captivity. Within a few hours, everything changes. Secrets, sins, reckoning, love, betrayal, confrontation.Written by
Ferenc Török's 1945 takes place in a backward Hungarian village at the end of World War II, when liberating Russian soldiers are present. Based on Gábor T. Szántó's short story "Homecoming" and filmed in black and white with striking authentically, 1945 focuses on human morality and behavior. Two categories of people are juxtaposed to strengthen this study: the poor, undereducated rural community led by their abhorrent town clerk István, and two silent Jewish strangers who arrive by train to the town. The Jewish father and son, clad formally in black, hire a cart at the train station to transport their two sealed trunks to an unspecified destination. They choose to walk behind the cart, and the camera comes back to them often, reiterating their silent, dignified trek along the dirt road that leads to town. In contrast, the villagers who await them are already in a panic—which Jews are they and what have they come for? Knowing nothing about the strangers—other than the stationmaster's fast-spreading rumor that their trunks contain perfume—the villagers jump to the conclusion that their own futures are at stake. They obsess about their fate because of their individual and collective guilt about what happened to their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust. Their guilt dictates that only their role in the Jews' deportation can explain the visitors' arrival.
The townfolks' commotion and generally nasty relationships to each other contrast to the silent walkers, with the cinematography of the two worlds also in contrast: the empty natural landscape versus the village hubbub where everybody knows everybody else's business, including everyone's wartime betrayals and illegal possession of Jewish property. The film takes as its subject how human guilt cannot be suppressed, but rather with the slightest provocation erupts defensively, often with more lies, and causes destruction of various sorts. Some of the guilty parties have remorse, others not, but either way, their guilt ignites havoc and dire consequences.
The quiet pilgrims on foot see and hear nothing of this village chaos as they pass through the town en route to their destination. Their straight carriage conveys dignity and honor, in contrast to their counterparts staring at them through windows, or racing about to burn evidence of their treachery or to hide wrongly inherited valuables. The returning Jews have no need to communicate to the villagers, other than to hire a cart for their trunks. The villagers are invisible to them; they don't exist as moral beings. Even István's offered handshake is proof of their hypocrisy.
Finally, the villagers' panic comes to breaking point, and led by István they go to the Jews who have reached their destination and humbly ask what they have come for. The villagers' guilt and their fate must have answers.
What they then learn, whether or not the truth sinks into their unenlightened heads, is that the father and son have come for something far deeper than the material possessions the villagers are so distraught about. The villagers didn't care about the Jews in the early 1940s and they don't care now—their anxiety is about their own safety and comfort—at the expense of children and families, their own neighbors and friends, whom they helped to murder. At heart a parable—though the lesson is lost on the villagers, which is a lesson in itself—1945 treats audiences to fine cinematography by Elemér Ragályi and villager roles well-acted by Péter Rudolf as István, Dóra Sztarenki Kisrózsi as his wife, and József Szarvas as Mr. Kustár. Iván Angelus and Marcell Nagy play the Sámuels, father and son.
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