Evening in Budapest

Sunset

by Rachel Willis

When Írisz Leiter (an intense and captivating Juli Jakab) returns to Budapest after a long absence, she seeks employment as a milliner in a hat store bearing her name. We learn quickly the store was her parents’, who died when she was two. The current owner, Oszkár Brill, refuses to give her a job and is evasive as to his reasons why. He tells her she can stay in town the night but then must leave.

From there, the tension quickly builds. Family secrets are revealed, and determined to learn more, Írisz refuses to depart as commanded.

With a combination of fearlessness and stupidity, Írisz throws herself into more and more dangerous situations seeking answers to questions we’re never quite sure of. Everyone Írisz meets evades her inquiries. She’s met with increasing resistance and resentment as she digs into her family’s history. As she follows sketchy leads, we’re taken deeper and deeper into the tumultuous world of Budapest in 1913.

There is much happening in director László Nemes historical drama, an ambitious follow up to his Oscar-winning debut, Son of Saul. There is a great deal to absorb as we follow Írisz. She’s our eyes in this world, and much of the time, she’s as off balance as the audience. Keeping the focus tightly bound to one character isn’t a bad way to orient an audience, but it can be problematic when we’re given too much information. It forces you to keep up, but not everyone will be up to the challenge of unraveling the mystery while puzzling over the surrounding details.

Visually, the audience is treated to a stunning film. The cinematography keeps us close to Írisz. Chaotic scenes lose focus, genuine terror is fed through her character’s reactions and facial expressions, crowded streets become oppressive. Darkness envelops much of the most horrific action, and it feeds the growing unease as Írisz’s journey follows unpredictable paths.    

We’re never quite sure where the film will take us, but it’s a compelling journey. We’re kept on our toes, answers aren’t easily found, and it’s not always clear what we’re learning as each new answer appears. When we think we’ve unraveled the mystery, new information comes to unmoor us.

It’s an absorbing, unnerving film.

Unbearable Secrets

Son of Saul

by Hope Madden

When Son of Saul, Laszlo Nemes’s blistering Holocaust drama, opens, you will think the film is out of focus. Hold tight, because Nemes has made a conscious decision here and this is just the first of many moments that will alter the way you look at a film.

The director’s breathlessly confident feature debut, which the Academy has nominated for best foreign language film, closely follows one Auschwitz inmate over a particularly tumultuous 36 hour period of his confinement. If you think you’ve seen everything there is to see about the Holocaust, well, the director will surprise you there as well.

Saul (a phenomenal Geza Rohrig) is a sonderkommando, or “bearer of secrets.” He is among the prisoners used by the Nazis to grease the machinery of extermination: rifling through clothing for valuables, removing victims from gas chambers, burning bodies, scrubbing floors in preparation for the next batch being hustled to the “showers.”

Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely keep Saul in shallow focus so that the horror around him is all only glimpsed peripherally. We are focused, as Saul is focused, on just one thing – and yet we are, as he is, saturated in the hell of this existence.

When Saul spies the body of a young boy he deems his son, an idea seizes him. He becomes possessed to save the corpse from the knife, find a rabbi to perform a Kaddish (prayer for the dead), and give the child a proper burial.

The counterproductive, myopic insanity of this act and the controlled lunacy of Saul’s determination become almost reasonable in the context of the mechanized dehumanization around him – a horror that is immersive thanks to Nemes singular vision and Tamas Zanyi’s suffocating sound design.

Much remains ambiguous as the relatively simple story unfolds, but that simplicity allows for the director’s unrelenting focus. It mirrors Saul’s necessary focus, and the moans, screams, beatings, death, and misery that surround him and us – because it is not neatly packaged or clearly articulated – may offer the most realistic picture of the incomprehensible events that any filmmaker could hope to achieve.

Son of Saul is a deeply human film about man’s inhumanity to man and Laszlo Nemes is an artistic phenomenon.

Verdict-5-0-Stars