The Notebook by Janos Szász exposes horrors of war
by Laurence Boyce
- Based on a novel by Hungarian author Agota Kristof, one of the first films to be produced by the new Hungarian National Film Fund.
Based on a novel by Hungarian author Agota Kristof, Janos Szász’s The Notebook [+see also:
interview: Janos Szász
film profile] is an effective and powerful expose of the horrors of war and how easily childhood innocence can slip away.
Egyik and Masik are twins who are sent to live with their grandmother near the tail end of the Second World War. While ostensibly this is to save them from the terrors of what could happen in the big cities, their lives take a turn for the worse when they find themselves in small village. Their grandmother is known as "The Witch" and makes them work for food while death, violence and destruction rains down around them. As they write in their notebook every night about what they are learning, they resolve to become tough and hardened to the reality of the adult world. But as their innocence slips away, so does their morality, and they will never be the same again.
Szász alternates between harsh realism and the fantastical (such as illustrations and animations that depict the boys’ jottings in their notebook) and the clash between childhood and the adult world is – often to a heart-rending degree – shown as disruptive and violent. Indeed, the film shows that rites of passage into adulthood are often as dangerous and corrupting as war.
Szász gets some stunning performances by the non-professional László and András Gyémánt in the leads while Piroska Molnar is also a formidable and compelling presence as their tough grandmother. While the film has a tendency to sometimes stray into melodrama, Szász has crafted a strong adaptation that keeps its literary heart but surrounds it with strong cinematic emotion.