It is an ordinary setting, this quaint little Hungarian town with its hard-working residents. And in “1945,” the ugliness behind what seems to be a peaceful setting is revealed.
Director Ferenc Török’s beautifully shot black-and-white movie is based on the short story “The Homecoming” by Gabor T. Szanto. At first, this appears to be a happy tale, with many people preparing for the wedding of the town clerk’s son Arpad (Bence Tasnadi). The town clerk Istvan (Peter Rudolf) bustles about as food is cooked, the bride begins her preparations and the bridegroom is about to celebrate a joyful occasion.
At least, that’s what it looks like. And then two Orthodox Jews (Ivan Angelus and Marcell Nagy) appear, hauling various items in wooden crates. While the two walk behind a horse-drawn carriage, news of their arrival spreads quickly via word of mouth from the station master, and various people react differently to the news.
Mostly, the townsfolk wonder what the Jews are doing there. Have they come to start trouble? The hard-drinking Bandi (Jozsef Szarvas, in an especially compelling performance) is overcome with guilt when he hears the news. His wife (Agi Szirtes) is more stoic.
In the meantime, trouble already has started. Kisrozsi (Dora Sztarenki) the bride obviously does not love her husband-to-be. Just hours before the wedding, she sneaks off with Jancsi (Tamas Szabo Kimmell) while her fiancé isn’t paying attention.
Szanto himself wrote the screenplay along with Török. It is not an action movie, nor is it heavy on dialogue. It could almost be considered a character study of a community, as opposed to the people within — its focus is the group dynamic. The picture takes its time, but before long you’ll realize why different characters have such disparate and intense perspectives on the appearance of the Jews.
The performances are wonderful all around. They are so realistic that, because of the black-and-white format, you might feel as though you’re watching a documentary at times.
The look of the film is important, because it helps establish the era. Thanks to the talent of Laszlo Rajk, the production design is beautifully executed. (Rajk, not so incidentally, also worked on “Son of Saul,” a Hungarian movie that earned the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2016).
Adding to the feeling of growing tension is the score by Tibor Szemzö, who uses a creepy sort of percussion that transitions into richer music as the story continues to unfold.
This is an unsettling movie about a dark time. The truth that this disturbing fiction reveals about human behavior is timeless.