2018-05-10 / Around Town

‘1945’ Examines War’s Aftermath

By Loren King

Ivan Angelus and Marcell Nagy star in “1945”. Ivan Angelus and Marcell Nagy star in “1945”. Two mysterious strangers arrive by train in a small town. That’s the premise of many a western, and Ferenc Torok’s Hungarian feature “1945” offers many tropes of classic American westerns, most notably “High Noon,” as it tensely unspools over the course of a single summer day. The film, which screens May 17 at the Jane Pickens Theater, is a subtle but powerful look at the recent aftermath of World War II through the eyes of several residents of a small village in Soviet occupied Hungary.

The day is Aug. 12, 1945, and according to a radio broadcast, the Americans have dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. In this Hungarian province, the war may have already ended, but its aftermath will continue indefinitely.

The radio belongs to Istvan (Peter Rudolf). The first image we see is his reflection in the bathroom mirror as he shaves with a straight razor; a note of impending danger that never lets up for the film’s 90-minute running time. Istvan, the town clerk and owner of the local drugstore, is getting ready for his son’s (Bence Tasnádi) wedding day. Istvan is a big deal in the town and he makes sure none of his neighbors forget it.

Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. Meanwhile, on the train that passes through town twice a day, another father (Ivan Angelus), and his adult son (Marcell Nagy), who are both Jews, quietly disembark. Without saying a single word, their presence and purpose fuel gossip and speculation. The new arrivals are transporting two large trunks said to be filled with perfume or cosmetics. When Istvan gets word of the men’s plan to accompany the cargo into town, he panics, believing the visitors to be relatives or acquaintances of Pollak, his Jewish friend and neighbor who was deported.

It soon becomes clear that Istvan profited from the deportation of Jews from the town. Other villagers are also implicated, including the priest (Béla Gados); the local drunk Bandi (József Szarvas), who is consumed with guilt; and Bandi’s wife (Ági Szirtes), who resents the prospect of losing the new home and tasteful furnishings, some with Jewish themes, she now possesses, thanks to collusion. Also suffering for the sins of the recent past is Istvan’s drug-addicted wife (Eszter Nagy-Kalozy) who, in her contempt for her husband’s misdeeds, also implicates herself.

Meanwhile, the two silent, black-hatted Jewish men remain grim-faced as they walk purposely behind a horse-drawn cart carrying their goods. But their very presence has set off a ripple effect of accusations, denials and remorse.

Torok’s co-writer, Gábor T. Szántó, based his screenplay on his own short story, “Homecoming.” Cinematographer Elemér Ragályi shot “1945” in gorgeous, high-contrast black-and-white with stunning, starkly composed images that he often shoots through curtains or windows, doorways or fences. Tibor Szemzö’s spare score recalls the forbidding notes of some westerns as the clock ticks on the long, hot afternoon that exposes the venality of the small town.

Besides “High Noon,” the film is also reminiscent of Pawel Pawlikowski’s acclaimed “Ida” (2013) in its atmospheric rendering of a community in Poland trying to come to terms with the recent horrors they’ve experienced or perpetrated. The film also alludes to the Holocaust without showing a single related scene or line of dialogue. In this little corner of Hungary, 1945 is a year after which nothing will ever be the same. The surface prosperity has been burned away, revealing lives built on betrayal, a fact that many residents would prefer to keep buried.

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