“1945” — 3 stars — Peter Rudolf, Bence Tasnadi, Tamas Szabo Kimmel, Dora Sztarenki, Eszter Nagy-Kalozy; not rated; Broadway
Ferenc Torok’s “1945” is about the fragility of a happiness built on deceit.
Set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the story follows the events in a small Hungarian village on a single day in August 1945. On paper, the day should be happy. The town clerk, Istvan (Peter Rudolf), is preparing to marry his shopkeeper son Arpad (Bence Tasnadi) to a local girl named Kisrozsi (Dora Sztarenki), and on the radio, voices proclaim the end to years of destruction and violence. Yet the whole village seems to be beset with a gloomy bleakness, and over its 90-minute running time, “1945” explains why.
The plot starts in motion when two somber Jews arrive at the local train station with what they describe as precious cargo. As soon as they get off the train, whispers make their way to the village and person after person betrays a deep and agitated prejudice. As a couple of hired hands load two large boxes onto a wagon, the men begin a long walk into the heart of the village.
In the meantime, Istvan is scrambling to make sure everything is set for the wedding. His wife Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kalozy) seems less than excited for the big day — likely because the wedding is arranged — and her fears are confirmed when we discover that Kisrozsi is still sleeping with her ex-fiance Jancsi (Tamas Szabo Kimmel).
Jancsi speaks Russian, which allows him to communicate with the occupying Soviet soldiers who have been adding additional tension throughout the village. “1945” offers a compelling glimpse of a community at the tail end of a war and just at the dawn of its time behind the Iron Curtain.
But soldiers aside, the real tension is centered on the two men in black and their mysterious cargo. As we witness different conversations and watch Istvan interact with people around town, such as the local priest (Bela Gados), we start to piece together the terrible source of their stress.
Apparently the village used to be home to a prominent Jewish family named Pollock, which was forced to sign over their possessions to the locals once the Germans came to remove them to the concentration camps. Now, the villagers fear, the Pollocks have returned to reclaim what was theirs.
Of course, it all goes deeper than that and as the events of the day unfold, “1945” explores a particular angle of the Holocaust's aftermath that is very moving. The story is all the more effective thanks to its sparse and deliberate pacing, punctuated by a minimal soundtrack and black-and-white visuals.
“1945’s” story is exclusively told from the Hungarian villagers’ point of view, which keeps the Jewish visitors’ purpose and intent mysterious and all the more moving when it is finally revealed.
“1945” is not rated, but would likely land in PG-13 territory for some sexual content and language (including two subtitled instances of R-rated profanity). It is presented in Hungarian and Russian with English subtitles.
“1945” is not rated; running time: 91 minutes.