Updated: Feb 6, 2020
When Jews were rounded up and forced from their homes during the Holocaust, their non-Jewish neighbors had the opportunity to take over their properties. So, for those that were able to survive and come back, there was a possibility that they had nothing waiting for them. Someone else was living in their house or running their business. The black and white Hungarian drama 1945 focuses on the sense of guilt and shame that engulfs a town when the Jews begin to return.
The film is set on August 12, 1945 in a rural village in Hungary. It is the wedding day of the son of the town clerk, Szentes. Everyone’s attention is on wedding preparations, until they are informed that two Jewish men got off the train and are headed toward town. This causes a panic. Who are they? Are they here to take their homes and businesses back? Are more of them coming? The variety of reactions to their arrival changes the lives of every person who lives there.
Guilt is an extremely powerful motivating factor in this story. Guilt about taking people’s possessions. Guilt about possibly playing a role in the Jews being taken away. Or at the very least, guilt for standing by while your neighbors, maybe even friends, were sent to their deaths. This is what the appearance of these two Jewish men means to the villagers. For Szentes, who practically runs things, everything he has built, his business, his reputation, could fall apart if the town’s Jews return and attempt to reclaim what is theirs.
This is all rendered in gorgeous black and white cinematography by Elemér Ragályi. The decision to shoot it in black and white was a good one because it helps establish the time period, while also lending the story a timeless quality. Additionally, there is a beautifully atmospheric, and subtly ominous, score by Tibor Szemzö. It adds to the mood created by the characters, without ever overemphasizing the emotions.
These both do a great job of supporting the methodical screenplay by Gábor T. Szántó and director Ferenc Török. They chose to define their characters by their previous actions and how they react to this new development. This turns them into “everymen” while tilting the story toward parable. Although it mostly works on its own, it is less important for what it is than what it represents. There is something almost dreamlike in the way everything is presented. The sins of the past have returned and they are inescapable. The sharp black and white photography, tone setting music, mannered performances, nightmarish dread of the villagers and the inexorable march of the visitors all combine in a way that is perfectly engrossing.
The plot itself has a beginning of sorts, a middle and an end, but it does not conclude. There is no real way for 1945 (87 minutes before the final credits) to resolve its issues, so it opts not to try. It brings up deep concepts and watches as these people grapple with them. Nothing is solved because, how could it be? However, it is really thought-provoking. Ferenc Török has a powerful and intriguing story, made especially effective since he never underlines anything. The themes speak for themselves. It is a very good film that is perhaps even more useful for the reflection it will inspire in its viewers after they see it.
4 out of 5
Péter Rudolf as Szentes István
Bence Tasnádi as Szentes Árpád
Tamás Szabó Kimmel as Jancsi
Dóra Sztarenki as Kisrózsi
József Szarvas as Kustár András
Eszter Nagy-Kálózy as Szentesné Anna
Iván Angelusz as Sámuel Hermann
Marcell Nagy as Sámuel Hermann’s son
Directed by Ferenc Török
Written by Gábor T. Szántó and Ferenc Török