(TORONTO, ON) – This black and white Hungarian film opened the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on May 4. The film 1945 has a definite connection to earlier Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. Just imagine Clint ambling through a desolate, windswept Mexican town with every peasant and townsfolk cowering and watching his every move.
However, in this case, there is no Clint Eastwood and there is no Mexican town.
A train arrives in a small, rural Hungarian town and two Orthodox Jews disembark with two crates they have described as containing perfume and soap. The two crates are loaded onto a horse drawn cart which slowly heads into town with the crate owners walking behind it. There is a very mournful and sombre soundtrack playing.
The stationmaster orders the driver of the rig to go very slowly so the whole town can be warned of the approaching Jews. They say virtually nothing throughout the film, but it is quite apparent a huge wave of guilt and fear begins sweeping the village by the mere presence of the visitors.
There presence is very bad timing for the town’s mayor, whose son is getting married that day. It so happens he owns a drugstore appropriated from the local Jewish Pollack family, who were turned into the Nazis by an informant. He, in turn, was pressured by the mayor to inform the Nazis.
Conveniently, the mayor ends up with the Pollack’s drugstore and the informant got the Pollock’s house and all its chattel.
The entire town seems to know the sordid story, including the local priest. Panic sets in and there is fear the Pollocks have sent the two Orthodox Jews to reclaim the Pollock’s confiscated property, all of which has been transferred legitimately by title to some of the villagers.
The Orthodox Jews end up at the village where they dig a grave and place certain personal effects, contained in the crates, in it. They say this is, “just a burial of what’s left of our dead.”
The mayor’s son is so disgusted with his father that he leaves town and his bride burns down the drugstore. Meanwhile, the informant hangs himself.
The two Orthodox Jews head back to the train station and leave the town fermenting in its collective guilt. Given the fate of Hungarian Jews, we see a bit of poetic justice done, not by the Orthodox Jews, but by the guilt, fear, and anxiety of a town which knows all too well what it has done.
Perhaps the most symbolic part of the film is the smoke from the train drifting across the screen, like smoke from a crematorium in a concentration camp.
Excellent acting, cinematography, and soundtrack. Note the digs against the poorly behaved Russian soldiers; 1956 is not forgotten.
(1945, Director Ferena Török, Hungary, 2016, 1 hour 27 minutes. Hungarian and Russian with English subtitles, part of Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2017)