Ferenc Török’s 1945 casts fresh light on cinema’s much-featured and debated time period, the Holocaust. At odds with the contemporary outlook of the rest of Film Fest Gent’s Official Selection, 1945 is set in a small, conservative Hungarian village on a hot August day in the aftermath of the Second World War. Shot with the prominent beauty of the New Garde of Hungarian cinema, it celebrates to my eyes the way cinema casts emotional sensibility on turbulent times.
Aesthetically fascinating (and as one would describe it a ‘feast for the senses’), watching Török’s masterpiece stirred within me some thoughts: given continuous technical improvements, could films made today express the collective consciousness, even traumas, of another time period with greater emotional weight than ones made closer to the time they had occurred? This likely determined my own viewing experience of 1945, which in part due to its cinematic style I found to be more emotionally captivating than many previous Holocaust films I had seen despite its distance from the occurrence of events (with some exceptions like the award-winning Schindler’s List).
Read at Unsung Films: Klimov’s Come and See and the War Film Genre
After the screening in Gent, Török described to audiences in the packed screening hall his influences from American Westerns both in terms of the stark, blistering landscapes (the image at times blurred by the capture of sweltering heat-waves) and the fact that 1945 begins and ends with the coming and going of a train. These features are important in bringing the film’s prominent focus on retribution to the fore. The train brings and carries away two mysterious Jews in traditional black clothing. They hire a horse and carriage to journey gravely through the village, their destination unbeknownst until the very end. Their arrival disturbs the villagers’ busy wedding preparations stirring suspicion, restlessness and eventual panic. Their march functions like the narrative thread unravelling and exposing the village’s buried collective guilt as a fundamental question eventually gets raised: could these have been Jews betrayed by the villagers during the war which led to their capture and deportation? This burning mystery lingers in the sizzling oppressive air.
1945’s attention to nuanced detail is heightened by the black and white cinematography. Török focus on close-ups draws particular attention to the textural details on the surface of skins, characters’ emotional burdens lined intangibly in their expressions. This is complemented by the excellent soundtrack punctuating the non-dialogue scenes and part of the film’s melancholic pacing. Doors slamming, glass crashing, chairs scraping; faces slapped, a hangman’s rope harrowingly creaking: these are sounds which shape the narrative and construct an unsettling, implicit sense of violence contributing to the atmosphere of evil, shame and paranoia. 1945 reveals more every time it is watched and more layers are unpeeled: conveying feelings’ internalisation, what remains unsaid, Török‘s content and style can be likened to Michael Haneke’s tormenting The White Ribbon.
Török expresses post-war sentiments with the pioneering force of a cinematic sensibility, bringing a new intelligent outlook on the subject.
Watch the trailer for 1945 here: