(Hungary 2016)

Ferenc Török’s excellent 1945, which he says took over a decade to finish, doesn’t end up where it looks like it’s going. The story takes place on a hot summer Saturday in August 1945 during a transitional time in Hungary — after the Nazis surrendered but before the Soviets left.

Two men in black, one old (Iván Angelus) and the other young (Marcell Nagy), arrive at the train station of a small rural village. They have two large trunks in tote, which they are bringing into town. They walk in silence behind the wagon as the hired driver (Miklós B. Székely) and his son (György Somhegyi) lead the way.

The stationmaster (István Znamenák) alerts the town clerk, István Szentes (Péter Rudolf), who’s in the midst of preparations for his son’s (Bence Tasnádi) wedding. The two visitors are Orthodox Jews who survived the Holocaust. The villagers are thrown into a state of paranoia, fearing the purpose of this unwanted intrusion.

Based on Gábor T. Szántó’s short story “Homecoming,” Török effectively sets up the narrative using the construct of a Western: an ominous sky, strangers in black, and nervous lawmen and townsfolk all ready for a conflict to erupt.

The conflict in 1945, however, started long before this day: it started when the apparently all Catholic residents betrayed their only Jewish neighbor, the owner of the local drug store. István’s wife, Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy), turned him in to the Nazis. István took over his store and moved his family into his house. Everyone, from the police to the village priest (Béla Gados), looked the other way.

Török shows the conflicted villagers struggling to rectify their personal gain with the dishonorable way they achieved it. Török’s pacing is perfect, unfolding slowly with an ever-increasing sense of unease and doom. It doesn’t hurt that the ensemble case is tops. Elemér Ragályi’s gorgeous black and white cinematography emulates the look of films from the 1930s and 1940s:

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1945 is one of the more memorable films I caught at this year’s festival.

With Tamás Szabó Kimmel, Dóra Sztarenki, Ági Szirtes, József Szarvas, Sándor Terhes, Tünde Szalontay, Mari Nagy, János Derzsi, Tibor Mertz, Bálint Adorjáni, Vivianne Bánovits, Rita Kerkay, Zsolt Dér, Gergö Mikola, Máté Novkov

Production: Katapult Films

Distribution: Menemsha Films

Screening introduced and followed by a live Q and A with Ferenc Török

91 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B+

Chicago International Film Festival



(UK/Hungary 2016)

“Race and religion are irrelevant. If you’re a dickhead, you’re a dickhead.”


I don’t usually bother with “feel good” movies, which tend to be vapid, cheesy affairs. The basic plot summary of Dough caught my attention. Although it teeters dangerously close to full-on “feel good,” to its credit it doesn’t go all the way. Exhale. Still, not great.

Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) has owned and single-handedly operated a Jewish bakery in London. It’s a family business that’s lasted for generations but has definitely seen better days. Nat’s livelihood is threatened by a grocery chain that wants to buy him out. The way things are going, the offer looks like the only way to stay above water.

Enter 20-ish African immgrant Ayyash Habimana (Jerome Holder), a Muslim who recently relocated to the neighborhood. Nat hires him to help bake, not realizing…well, that he gets baked. Like, smoking weed. Ganja. Marijuana. Somehow, Ayyash starts churning out muffins that sell like hotcakes.

Dough is a really cute comedy that works on many levels, at least from a narrative perspective. Director John Goldschmidt steers things in a realistic direction, showing that two disparate generational and cultural ideologies are not really all that far apart. The opening scene—at 4:00 a.m.—illustrates the parallels between Nat and Ayyash’s lives and gets Dough off to a great start. I was hooked. It looked like a winner.

Unfortunately, things go downhill fast. Dough quickly turns into amateur hour, with writing (Jez Freedman and Jonathan Benson) and acting that just doesn’t deliver on the potential here. The story is hamfisted, oversimplified, and predictable. Aside from a few sweet scenes, Dough is kind of a dud.

With Philip Davis, Ian Hart, Pauline Collins, Andrew Ellis, Malachi Kirby, Natasha Gordon, Melanie Freeman, Olivia Dayan

Production: Docler Entertainment, Three Coloured Dog Films, Docler DProd, Dough Film, Viva Films

Distribution: Menemsha Films, Margo Cinema, Rialto Distribution, Vertigo Releasing

94 minutes
Not rated

(iTunes rental) C-


Son of Saul [Saul Fia]

(Hungary 2015)

Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig) is a Jewish-Hungarian prisoner at Auschwitz. A worker with the Sonderkommando, he is part of a special group of prisoners charged with the grim job of disinfecting gas chambers after exterminations and burning the bodies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonderkommando). While moving corpses after a particular gassing, he finds a young boy (Gergö Farkas) struggling to breathe. Saul notifies a guard and watches a doctor kill the boy. The event sets off something in Saul, prompting his mission to find a rabbi at the camp and give the boy a proper burial in the midst of a brewing prison uprising.

The plot is touching, and some of the story developments are even gripping; but the plot is secondary. Son of Saul is not about the story; it’s about the feeling of being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Director and cowriter Laszlo Nemes is successful—to say the least—and the result is fucking intense: noise and confusion dominate. What exactly is happening at the moment and what’s real are seldom clear. The mood is tense and things are volatile. The camera work, choppy and blurry and focused almost entirely on Saul, creates a claustrophobic, suffocating effect. At some points, body parts of the dead—a foot, a breast, a crotch—come in and out of focus in the background like unsettling scenery.

Son of Saul is a mindfuck, and parts of it teeter on being unwatchable. It throws out a lot to process; I left the theater frazzled. I never want to see it again, but I don’t need to: it’s going to stay with me. Nemes does an excellent job; it’s so powerful that it’s hard to believe this is his directorial debut.

(Music Box) A-


White God [Fehér isten]

(Hungary 2014)

Tara Fass of Huffington Post was right on the mark when she called Kornél Mundruczó’s White God “a thrilling and visceral fairy tale.” This particular fairy tale traces the parallel paths of Lili (Zsofia Psotta), a brooding teenager handed off to her father (Sandor Zsoter) for three months, and her dog, Hagen (switch hitters Body and Luke), after the two are separated when Lili’s father abandons Hagen on the street. The two main characters– girl and dog– become increasingly feral left on their own. They’re brought together again after a series of events culminating in a beautifully orchestrated over-the-top canine takeover of the city reminiscent of Hitchcock, Disney, and Tarantino. Think of Old Yeller on crack. Not what I expected, which is what drew me in and kept me watching.

Bonus: all of the dogs in the film were strays that reportedly were adopted after shooting ended.

(Music Box) B+