Review of “1945”by Julia Bernicker June 26, 2018
Based off of the short story “The Homecoming” by Gábor T. Szántó, “1945” feels equally as concentrated and singular as short stories tend to be. The screenplay is co-written by Szántó, alongside Hungarian director Ferenc Török, who is best known for his debut film, Moscow Square. But although the film is centered on a single town in rural Hungary and a single day, it is still titled “1945.” This is intentional, as the small portrait of post-war life we get from the film manages to capture the themes of a whole year: the instability and suspicion that the war left behind, and the recovery that is still to be done.
Shot in contrast black and white, the film opens at a railroad station, where a father and son duo have arrived with mysterious crates they claim house cosmetics for delivery. They are Jewish, and their arrival catalyzes chaos in the small town, on a day that is already busy with preparations for the wedding of the town clerk’s son that afternoon. Set in 1945, the Nazis have just left Hungary but the Soviet liberation forces are still around. Things have not yet calmed down from the end of the war and the paranoid villagers are not quite ready for the return of their ex-neighbors and friends, especially since many of them have moved into the homes and taken the belongings of the Jews who left them unoccupied.
But these mysterious strangers are far from the main characters of the film, exchanging zero words with each other in all of their screen time. Instead, Istvan, the town clerk and somewhat protagonist of the film, is the one who stirs the pot. He, along with some of the villagers, become increasingly frustrated as the men go about their shady business in the town. Some worry they have come back to reclaim their stolen property. Some worry this is just the beginning and soon more will return and follow suit.
Even in the same household, however, not everyone is proud of the way they acted during the war. As the villagers begin to question their loyalty to each other and disagree on how the men should be treated, everything falls apart—the wedding, families and eventually, even Istvan. But when everything hits the fan, the true nature of the men’s visit is revealed in a scene set to the music of a Yom Kippur prayer, rendering the film in a new, more somber light. Possibly the most beautiful in the movie, this scene reminds the audience that at its core, “1945” is still a Holocaust movie.