1945: Getting to grips with the ghosts of the past
by Roberto Oggiano
- BERLIN 2017: Director Ferenc Török faces the past to talk about the Hungarian nation’s present
Ferenc Török’s latest film, 1945 [+see also:
film profile], which was presented in the Panorama section of the 67th edition of the Berlin Film Festival, is the black and white portrayal of a special day in the life of a small Hungarian village at the end of the Second World War, as it gets to grips with a past best forgotten and a threatening future.
The film revolves around the presence of two Jews, who return to the village with two large trunks, stirring fear in those who profited from their persecution; it is the very sense of anxiety created by that which is foreign that Török tries to describe to us, using quick-fire editing and a camera that’s always on the move, in contrast with the wide shots framing those who have come from far away by train: the comparison with the growing sense of nationalism in contemporary Hungary is clear to see, victims who are portrayed as dangerous invaders by those in power is somewhat of a leitmotiv that is repeated over and over again. Whilst for some nations, 1945 was the year of liberation from Nazi-fascism, other states in Eastern Europe simply went from being dominated by one foreign power to being dominated by another, turning a prosperous future into terrible misfortune: the final shot showing the black smoke from the train in the middle of the countryside is in this respect symbolic; what should have been a cause for celebration (a wedding) turns into tragedy, in which no one is free from blame, from the parish priest to the mayor, from masters to servants; indeed it’s no accident that the only positive characters end up leaving the village.
Whilst this small village is the spitting image of Hungarian society, certain shots sum up the film, real explanatory depictions that require no dialogue, whilst the camera observes the victims discretely, always from the sidelines or from the other side of windows or bars (how can we not think of the barbed wire lining the border between Hungary and Serbia?). It’s almost as if the narration were purposefully deferential, one that is painful but necessary not only to understand what happened in the past, and therefore what’s happening now, but with the feeling that foreseeing a threatening future is a duty, and that certain tragedies aren’t accidental but the result of the dissemination of demented ideas of the likes of nationalism and racism. Török’s film perhaps put too many irons in the fire for its 1h30 running time with so many narrative lines, some of which remain largely unexplored (for example the relationship between the locals and the Russian soldiers), but in substance it is an honest film that commits itself to portraying Hungary in the immediate post-war period, showing that fearing that which is foreign (back then Jews, today migrants) never pays off.
(Translated from Italian)