07-01-06 Revista de Prensa
"Happiness" Amid the Nazi Horror in "Fateless"
"Fateless" is a Holocaust drama without the plot twists of "Schindler's List" he childlike whimsy of "Life Is Beautiful" or the star- making acting of "The Pianist"
by Rick Warner / (Bloomberg.com)
It's a simpler, more straightforward movie than those predecessors, though no less powerful. Director Lajos Koltai doesn't need contrivance or frills to tell Imre Kertesz's autobiographical story of a Hungarian teenager who survives Nazi concentration camps and returns to his homeland, only to find himself in a world he barely recognizes.
Stringing together short, stark scenes shot with so little color that they seem black and white, longtime cinematographer Koltai conveys the horror of the camps without resorting to explicit violence. Seeing a prisoner getting smacked in the face for failing to shave or watching hundreds of rail-thin inmates being forced to stand outside in the freezing winter for hours at a time is just as frightful.
This is minimalist moviemaking with a maximum effect.
Kertesz, a concentration-camp survivor who won the 2002 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote the screenplay, which is based on his 1975 novel of the same name. They both follow the travails of 14-year-old Gyuri Koves (Marcell Nagy), a carefree Hungarian Jew whose world is turned upside down in 1944 when he and his father are deported to Nazi camps from their home in Budapest.
Carrot Soup, Stale Bread
His father is the first to go. Although there are already widespread rumors about plans to exterminate the Jews, his neighbors are in a state of denial, refusing to believe that such an abomination is possible. One man claims that the Germans are just using Hungarian Jews as a bargaining chip to negotiate with the Allies. Reminded of reports about the mass execution of Polish Jews, he bellows with indignation: ``Poland isn't Hungary!''
Soon, Gyuri is ordered off a bus on his way to work and sent on a hellish train ride to Auschwitz, where prisoners are quickly divided into two groups. The young, old and weak are destined for immediate death, while the others are sent to another camp for hard labor.
It soon becomes apparent that death might have been the more humane option. Prisoners are forced to shovel rocks and carry heavy bags on their back to the point of exhaustion. They are verbally and physically abused by sadistic guards and given skimpy portions of carrot soup, stale bread and coffee.
Near starvation and suffering from a grotesquely swollen knee, Gyuri is rescued by non-Jewish political prisoners with special privileges who arrange for him to be taken to a medical clinic at Buchenwald. He's getting treatment there when the camp is liberated by American soldiers, including a Jewish officer who encourages him to migrate to the U.S. and start a new life.
Instead, Gyuri returns to Budapest, where he finds the city reduced to rubble and another family living in what used to be his home. He learns his father has died in a labor camp and his stepmother has remarried.
Gyuri becomes practically nostalgic for the concentration camps that have been his home for almost a year. He tells his former neighbors that life was simpler there and even uses the word ``happiness'' to describe the feeling he had just before a meal was served.
While that description may seem shocking, Kertesz says it was intentional.
``It was an act of rebellion against the role of victim which society had assigned me,'' he told the New York Times. ``It was a way of assuming responsibility, of defining my own fate.''
Fate -- and our amazing drive to survive under the most barbaric conditions -- are at the center of this remarkable film about the best and worst of humanity. Ultimately, it is a message of hope -- or, as Gyuri concludes: ``There's nothing too unimaginable to endure.''
``Fateless,'' from ThinkFilm, is in Hungarian with English subtitles. It opens today in New York and Jan. 27 in Los Angeles.