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FATELESS

Director: LAJOS KOLTAI

HUNGARY-GERMAN-U.K.| 2005. SUBTITLED. COLOUR. ANAMORPHIC. DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO. 134 MIN.


Written by Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertesz, this adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel (published in English as ‘Fatelessness’) is a major addition to the cinema of the Holocaust. Since Hungary was nominally a German ally, it wasn’t until the closing months of 1944 that deportations begin to affect Budapest’s largely assimilated Jewish population, which in part explains 14-year-old Gyuri Koves’s initial disbelief as he finds himself packed into a train bound for Auschwitz. He’s soon forced to adjust his perspective however, given the daily round of endurance and survival which will become his lot. Yet amid the suffering there’s also comradeship, which allows him to retain a precarious grip on his humanity.

Measured, unsentimental, and of a sustained intensity appropriate to but never exploitative of the situation, this assured directorial debut from cameraman Lajos Koltai explores the horrifying ramifications of perseverance in the face of incomprehensible horror and the inevitable toll it extracts from the survivors. Wide-eyed Marcell Nagy’s unbelievably committed central performance carries the film all the way as Kertesz’s protagonist maintains the right to his own identity in the face of being dubbed a mere ‘victim’. Although the imposing colour-drained images and Ennio Morricone’s powerful score (featuring the melismatic voice of Lisa Gerrard) are striking in themselves, it’s this emphasis on the character’s essential selfhood which marks the film out from, say, ‘Schindler’ts List’ or ‘The Pianist’. Relatively few films touching on the Holocaust are worthy of their subject; this one stands in the very front rank.—Trevor Johnston.

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