Holocaust Survivors Return to Hungarian Hometown in Poignant Postwar Drama
It is Aug. 12, 1945. Japan is reeling and on the verge of surrender in the wake of atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With Germany having surrendered to the Allies back in the spring, Europe is already in postwar mode, though not exactly at peace, as we are about to learn.
For this bright, summer day is when Samuel Hermann (Ivan Angelus) and his son (Marcell Nagy) disembark from a train that has just rolled into their rural Hungarian hometown. Oddly, their arrival doesn’t inspire the locals to celebrate the fact that a couple of their Jewish neighbors carted away by the Nazis had miraculously survived the Holocaust.
Instead, the easily identifiable Orthodox pair is greeted with suspicion because their property had long since been appropriated by somebody in the tight-knit town. So, as they load their luggage onto a horse-drawn-carriage, the village notary (Peter Rudolf) directs the driver (Miklos B. Szekely) to go very slowly.
The delay buys him the time to ride ahead and thereby serve as a latter-day Paul Revere to the rest of the community, warning, “They’re here! Jews are back!” Among his ports-of-call is the drugstore the Hermanns had been forced to leave behind, which is now in his own son’s (Bence Tasnadi) hands.
That is the compelling point of departure of 1945, one of the most intriguing Holocaust dramas to come along in years. After all, it addresses a question generally swept under the rug by historians, namely, what kind of reception awaited concentration camp internees who opted to repatriate rather than immigrate to Israel.
Directed by Ferenc Torok (Moscow Square), the film is based on Homecoming, a short story by Gabor T. Szanto. The picture was shot in black & white, which serves to amplify the solemnity of the Hermanns as they walk in silence behind the deliberately paced buggy.
Their dignified behavior cuts such a sharp contrast with that of the suddenly-alarmed citizens, most of whom respond by closing ranks and wondering how many other “interlopers” might soon assert claims to land they’d taken title to legally.
A powerful parable of Biblical proportions, illustrating both man’s inhumanity to man, as well as his capacity to forgive, if not necessarily to forget.
Excellent (4 stars)
In Black & White
In Hungarian and Russian with subtitles
Running time: 91 minutes
Production Studio: Katapult Film
Distributor: Menemsha Films
Thank You for Your Service
Wounded Warriors Readjust to Civilian Life in Adaptation of Heartbreaking Best Seller
In the spring of 2007, The Washington Post‘s David Finkel accompanied a combat team of American infantrymen deployed to Baghdad at the start of the controversial surge ordered by President Bush. After being embedded for a year, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter chronicled the intrepid GIs’ heroic efforts to bring stability to the region in a riveting best seller entitled, The Good Soldiers.
In 2013, Finkel published, Thank You for Your Service, an update about the same troops’ struggle to readjust to civilian life upon returning to the States. Now, that opus has been adapted to the big screen as a psychological drama, telescoping tightly on the mental state of a few members of the battalion.
The movie marks the impressive directorial debut of Jason Hall, who’s previously best known for writing and appearing in American Sniper (2014). The picture stars Miles Teller as Adam Schumann, a former sergeant ostensibly suffering from PTSD.
As the film unfolds, we learn that he has remained close with surviving members of the tight-knit unit once under his command. Unfortunately, all of them have been left damaged, mentally and/or physically. Consequently, all of their relationships are in crisis, and none has managed to hold down a steady job.
Adam’s worried wife (Haley Bennett) starts pressuring him to get help because he not only dropped their newborn baby inexplicably, but he’s constantly looking for IEDs whenever they drive down the street, as if he’s still in Iraq. Trouble is, there’s a nine-month waiting list to see a shrink at the VA hospital, and he’s being discouraged from seeking treatment by a callous colonel (Jake Weber), suggesting that all he needs to do is toughen up a little.
Then, there’s Solo (Beulah Koale), a Samoan with amnesia whose fed up wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is thinking of leaving him, despite being pregnant. Another buddy, Will (Joe Cole), was dumped by his fiancee (Erin Darke) before he even arrived home. And so forth.
The plot soon thickens, with things getting worse before they get better. But at least this loyal band of brothers can count on each other, if not the VA or their loved ones for support. A heartbreaking tale that’s difficult to swallow since it’s based purely on the hard, cold truth.
A sobering account of our wounded warriors’ tragic misfortunes.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, drug use, graphic violence, brief nudity and pervasive profanity
In English and Samoan with subtitles
Running time: 108 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening November 3, 2017
BIG BUDGET FILMS
A Bad Moms Christmas (R for crude humor, graphic sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity) Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reprise their roles in this holiday-themed sequel, which finds the underappreciated and overburdened BFFs struggling to measure up to the expectations of their visiting moms (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon) at Christmastime. With Jay Hernandez, Peter Gallagher and Wanda Sykes.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (PG-13 for violence and profanity) Denzel Washington plays the title character in this crime-drama about an idealistic attorney pressured to compromise his values after his law partner (Colin Farrell) suffers a heart attack. With Carmen Ejogo, Shelly Hennig and Nazneen Contractor.
Thor: Ragnarok (PG-13 for violence, intense action and suggestive material) The 17th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series finds the Norse superhero (Chris Hemsworth) squaring off against The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and in a race against time to save civilization from his new nemesis (Cate Blanchett). Ensemble cast includes Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tessa Thompson and Karl Urban.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Blade of the Immortal (R for graphic violence and relentless carnage) High body count, samurai saga about a chivalrous warrior (Takuya Kimura) who helps an orphan (Hana Sugisaki) avenge the murder of her parents by a ruthless warlord’s (Sota Fukushi) goons. With Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda and Kazuki Kitamura. (In Japanese with subtitles)
The First to Do It (Unrated) Hoops documentary chronicling the life and times of Earl Lloyd (1928-2915), who grew up in the segregated South, made history in 1950 when he became the first African-American to play in the NBA, and lived long enough to see the country elect its first black president.
Gilbert (Unrated) Poignant retrospective of the career of Gilbert Gottfried, who started out doing standup comedy as a teenager before getting a big break at 20 when he was recruited to join Saturday Night Live’s ensemble cast. Featuring commentary by Lewis Black, Whoopi Goldberg and Jim Gaffigan.
Lady Bird (R for profanity, sexuality, partying and brief graphic nudity) Coming of age drama chronicling a year in the life of a headstrong teenager (Saoirse Ronan) rebelling against her equally strong-willed mother (Laurie Metcalf) who’s struggling to keep the family afloat after her husband (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Featuring Lucas Hedges, Odeya Rush and Kathryn Newton.
Last Flag Flying (R for pervasive profanity and sexual references) Richard Linklater directed this bittersweet drama about a grieving Vietnam vet (Steve Carell) accompanied by a couple of his marine buddies (Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston) to the funeral of his son killed in Iraq. With Cicely Tyson, J. Quinton Johnson and Deanna Reed-Foster.
LBJ (R for profanity) Woody Harrelson plays Lyndon Baines Johnson in this biopic centering on the early months of his presidency when he took the reins of power in the wake of the assassination of JFK (Jeffrey Donovan). Featuring Michael Stahl-David as RFK, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird and Judd Lormand as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
Singularity (PG-13 for action and violence) Sci-fi thriller, set in 2020, revolving around the CEO of a hi-tech company (John Cusack) who invents a robot programmed to end all wars, only to have an army of them turn on humanity. With Julian Shaffner, Jeannine Wacker and Carmen Argenziano.
Wait for Your Laugh (Unrated) Reverential retrospective about Rose Marie, the legendary comedienne who started on radio and in vaudeville at the age of four and has enjoyed an enduring career of 90 years and counting. Featuring tributes by Dick Van Dyke, Tim Conway and Carl Reiner.