The Hungarian import 1945 opens in that country in the title year. The war is just over, and bored Russian troops on patrol watch local women prepare for a wedding.
On the outskirts of town, a train pulls up to deposit two Jewish men (Iván Angelusz, Marcell Nagy) and their steamer trunks. The station agent furtively hops aboard his bicycle to hustle into town to inform the notary (Peter Rudolf, whose character essentially functions as the mayor), and soon the place is in a quiet panic.
Who are these visitors? What do they want? What’s in the trunks?
The answer to the latter, we’re told, is perfume. Appropriate, in that something in this town stinks.
It emanates from the ripple of fear and guilt felt by many in the town who witnessed or participated in the wartime of expulsion and execution of Jewish residents. Some are now living in homes owned by the murdered families, some now operate their confiscated businesses.
Implicated villagers fear the Jewish men have come to reclaim what is theirs, and so a rolling wave of uncertainty and dread spreads through the town, and we see the currents of guilt, greed, and culpability register in the faces and in the actions of the residents.
It’s not the sort of scenario in which you’d expect to find references to the Fred Zinnemann classic High Noon, but that’s the template here: the black-and-white photography, the arriving train, the visitors, the ticking clock, the sudden emotional turmoil of a populace abruptly required to make hard decisions and gauge their own moral courage.
Many take their cue from Istvan, the notary, who has been one of the chief beneficiaries of this transfer of property. His son Arpan (Bence Tasnádi) is getting married, and he plans to install Arpan as proprietor of the pharmacy that once belonged to a Jewish family, their photo albums still in storage in the stockroom.
That wedding, though, is already a fraught affair. Arpan senses that his bride (Dóra Sztarenki) wants the pharmacy more than she wants him. She still has eyes for an old sweetheart (Tamás Szabó Kimmel) a Hungarian soldier recently back from the war, asking questions about property transfers.
While all these story threads play out, the Jewish men continue their slow march from the train station, trailing the wagon that carries their trunks. This grim procession proceeds slowly through town, as the townspeople watch furtively from their windows – avoiding and yet anticipating a moral reckoning.
Such a reckoning occurs, but in an effectively surprising way — director Ferenc Török departs from the High Noon arc, and finds a way to end the movie with an invocation of violence, rather than an eruption of it. His final image, gruesome and evocative, is unforgettable.
- Directed by Ferenc Török. With Iván Angelusz, Marcell Nagy and Peter Rudolf. Distributed by Menemsha Films.
- Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
- Parents guide: Not rated.
- Playing at: Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Ritz Five