December 29, 2006 -- This Hungarian film about the Holocaust is haunting and beautiful in its own way, although slow-moving and overlong. It gives us the unusual message that there were happy times in the concentration camps for a young boy who became a man there. While others urge him to forget the bad times, he cannot, and doesn't wish to. Life in the concentration camps had become a part of his very soul. He can no more disassociate himself from those memories than he could those of his most cherished childhood memories.
The most moving parts of the film reflect the attempts of the prisoners to maintain their humanity amid inhumane conditions. In one such scene an older man gives a treasured piece of meat in his soup to György Köves (played by Marcell Nagy), the young man who is the film's main character. It is perhaps an acknowledgement by the older man that his life is almost over and he hopes, by his act of kindness, to give Köves a better chance to survive. There are other acts of kindness in the film as prisoners help each other to survive.
Köves' own survival strategy seems to revolve around fatalism. He knows he could die at any time, so he gives himself up to fate. This gives him the freedom not to worry about the future at all. He lets his survival instincts take over and he goes with the flow. In one scene, he bunks with a dead man in the infirmary. The orderlies, not knowing the man is dead, give Köves rations for both men, allowing Köves to eat double rations. After the war, Köves continues to see all his experiences through the lens of his experiences as a prisoner and continues to accept his fate, whatever that may be. He accepts the possibility of both joy and sorrow with equal grace.
The director, Lajos Koltai (“Sunshine”) and the cinematographer, Gyula Pados, use a very limited and subdued color palette for the film, that is varied as the film goes along. The scenes in the prison camp are almost colorless, while the scenes outside the camp both before and after the war have more color. Rain and cloudy weather further subdue the colors in many of the concentration camp scenes. The scenes in the prison camp went on far too long, but were effective. The musical score by the great Ennio Morricone (“The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”) is also subdued, but very moving. Marcell Nagy gives a fine performance as Köves. His wide-eyed, vacant, haunting stare and good looks reminds me a lot of another actor with a similar wide-eyed, innocent, open look, Elijah Wood of “Lord of the Rings.” This film rates a B.
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