Keep Quiet: An anti-Semite discovers his Jewish origins
by Vladan Petkovic
- This British documentary is about one of the founders of Jobbik, who makes a U-turn after discovering his grandmother is an Auschwitz survivor
British documentary filmmakers Sam Blair and Joseph Martin world-premiered their latest film, Keep Quiet [+see also:
film profile], at Tribeca. The movie later went to DocAviv, and screened last week in the OutstanDox competition of the Astra Film Festival in Sibiu. It is a provocative, at times enraging, and at times emotional story of one of the founders of Hungary's far right-wing party Jobbik, who discovers that he is Jewish.
Born and raised in a nationalistic family, in 2003 Csanád Szegedi was only 21 when he co-founded Jobbik, Hungary's extreme right-wing party. In 2007, he started the paramilitary organisation Hungarian Guard, which was banned in 2009. That same year, after Jobbik's huge success at the elections, Szegedi became a representative in the European Parliament. And in 2012, he discovered that his grandmother was Jewish. After some initial confusion, his fears were confirmed during a conversation with his grandma, which he also filmed. In the devastating (and not just for Szegedi) low-res video, she shows him her Auschwitz tattoo.
At the very beginning of the film, Szegedi catches a train to the concentration camp memorial, together with another survivor who now lives in Canada. He seems to be starting to accept his Jewish origins, but can't get away from his ideological roots. “Why is the Holocaust such a big thing?” he asks the old lady. “A lot of Hungarian soldiers died in the Second World War, too.”
But Szegedi probably did not set off on this pilgrimage on his own. In his dismay and in search of answers, he visited Rabbi Oberlander, head of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council in Budapest, who took him under his wing. The anti-Semite now apparently wants to become a dedicated believer. The Rabbi is portrayed in the film as a moral compass: he offers Szegedi a guiding hand, and cites the Jewish tradition of forgiveness, and the imperative to love every Jew, to the (rightfully) outraged community.
A gifted politician and a highly charismatic figure, Szegedi does his best in the course of the following year to convince Jews that he has seen the error of his ways, and is heading towards redemption. But no Jew except for Oberlander believes a word of his claims. These moments are some of the film's most emotional – whichever side a viewer feels inclined to take.
Keep Quiet is predominantly a traditional mix of talking-heads interviews and archive material, but with a topic so provocative and emotionally conflicting, the approach is spot-on. With it, Blair and Martin build a more than captivating and exciting narrative, with the expert help of editor Ben Stark, giving audiences food for thought and fuel for an undoubtedly emotional discussion. It is indeed hard to keep a cool head after this viewing experience.
A co-production by the UK's AJH Films and Passion Pictures, Keep Quiet is handled internationally by New York-based The Film Sales Company.
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