Two Jewish men (Ivan Angelus and Marcell Nagy) return to a small Hungarian town in Ferenc Torok’s 1945. And they inadvertently upending the plans of a town clerk, Ivan Szentzes (Peter Rudolf) and Mrs. Kustar (Agi Szirtes) trying to marry off their respective children, Arpad (Bence Tasnadi) and Kiroszi (Dora Sztarenki). Kiroszi’s love for a working class man, Jancsi (Tamas Szabo Kimmel) isn’t the only hurdle in this marriage. Nor is Jancsi’s kwotowing to other visiting Russian Communists. That’s because the film reveals that the marriage legitimizes the ownership of a few properties. Ivan, by the way, stole those properties from Jewish men’s friends who might want those properties back.
The film captures the typical stuff in depicting changes within a small town. Sometimes it shows the folks celebrating together as a group. But more often than not, it also shows the private conversations that the townsfolk have with each other. Those conversations mostly occur between Ivan and other people like Mr. Kustar (Josef Szarvas), the latter in charge of warning their fellow townsfolk of the Jewish men. But then, of course, Mr. Kustar and some of the townsfolk have their own opinions. They think Jewish people are people not worth warning about.
Torok filmed these scenes in gorgeous black and white. Viewers familiar with Hungarian cinema will probably compare this to Bela Tarr. Tarr himself played with different aesthetics within that color scheme. But Torok uses a bit of sepia tone here to present this fictional town with a certain aridity. There’s a meticulousness to most of the shots. And especially, there’s a consideration and nuanced sympathy on how he frames the Jewish men.
1945 specifically shoots some characters through windows, like it does the Jewish men and Arpad, both sets of characters having ambiguous relationships with the Hungarian town with no name. The window shots affirm what other critics have noticed about this film’s Western aesthetic. It uses some of the genre’s cues and tropes while subverting some of its binaries, as it should. The visitors are threat but not evil. The genre also has characters wrestling with either fight of flight. And the framing pretty much says which side some characters are on.
Recent westerns, strict ones or otherwise, have gone back and forth. They either take the perspective of the characters of a small town or its visitors. Gábor T. Szántó and Ferenc Török’s script chooses the former. This can be a problematic position to take if a filmmaker executes their ideas incorrectly. Török, fortunately, gets things right. In depicting history’s villains, he shows a spectrum, especially the innocent people who have to carry generations worth of guilt.
Catch 1945 on OVID.