See our Best of Detroit 2020 winners.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Enduring love

Portrait of the Holocaust filled with poetic imagery

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

As weary Hungarian Jews sit packed together in a cargo railcar, unsure of where they're being taken or whether they'll survive, a ray of light squeezes through a crack, illuminating a swirl of snowflakes.

There is deep, alarming beauty in Lajos Koltai's Fateless. It's not surprising, considering Koltai is a cinematographer-turned-director, but it's not necessarily what one would expect to find in a Holocaust movie.

Koltai's poetic imagery fits, however, with Hungarian Nobel laureate Irme Kertész's screenplay. Fateless, which ranks among the best film depictions of the Holocaust, is based on Kertész's memoir of his childhood experience in a Nazi concentration camp.

The film follows 14-year-old Gyuri, played with considerable restraint by Marcell Nagy, whose piercing gaze conveys a complexity of thoughtfulness and emotions.

Gyuri's story is told in short bursts, like a scrapbook of memories, instead of a traditional narrative.

We start with young Gyuri, typically preoccupied with his teen life and the cute girl who lives next door. The Nazi occupation came late to Hungary, and at this point is still new and unexpected. Gyuri is resentful of the occupiers, especially because he and his family are not particularly religious Jews. When his father is instructed to report to a work camp, his family and neighbors still hold on to optimism that the audience knows will prove false. They also tell him this suffering is part of who he is and that he should resign himself to his "common Jewish fate."

When Gyuri is randomly picked off a bus with other Jews and shipped by train to concentration camps, he still struggles to reconcile his identity as a Jew and a Hungarian, and just how this "common fate" applies to him. Death, he decides, could come at any time to anyone, and in that realization he somehow musters up a feeling of freedom. Gyuri also falls in with a fellow Hungarian who teaches him keys to surviving — he must keep a crust of bread in his pocket as something to hold on to and bathe to keep up his dignity and self-esteem. He shows him how to keep hope and his sense of humanity.

Koltai and Kertész find power in a steady, even-paced delivery. They avoid grand moments and big sweeping emotional scenes, instead quietly following Gyuri's day-to-day travails. It's in these mundane moments, with devastation all around, that we see the source of Gyuri's hope. Starving prisoners find joy in their favorite flavor of gruel; a father shares a tiny chunk of meat, a treasured find, with his son; others recite prayers that Gyuri doesn't understand, but the fact that they still have faith is remarkable in itself.

When an emaciated Gyuri returns to Budapest, his homecoming is bittersweet. Neighbors tell him to forget what's happened, to move on. Others want to hear of the horrors he endured in the "circle of hell."

Gyuri will not simply move on, nor will he only dwell upon the horrors he faced. His story is one of humanity and survival, one that illustrates that, even in the face of unbridled hatred, love and hope will find a way to endure.

 

In Hungarian and German with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., Friday-Saturday, March 10-11, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 12. Call 313-833-3237.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

Tags:

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 28, 2020

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit