A small town confronts its dark past in ‘1945’
On a blistering August day in Ferenc Török’s “1945,” a bucolic Hungarian village prepares for a wedding of the Town Clerk’s son and his peasant bride. Across town, an Orthodox man and his son step off a train with two large cases, their contents a mystery. Though they never say a word about their intentions, their mere appearance sets off a chain reaction of suspicion and paranoia within its residents, particularly the town clerk. By the time they leave, the entire village is upended. Things will never be the same.
The clerk (Peter Rudlof) appears to be an upstanding member of his community, with a successful storefront, political pull, a handsome son. Yet, as these two mysterious men (Iván Angelusz and Marcell Nagy) make their way to a destination yet unknown, Kustar, the local drunk played by Ági Szirtes , becomes incapable of bearing the burden of a secret he shares with the clerk and possibly these two men. The revelation could ruin the tranquility of their community.
Török takes a naturalistic approach to this moral thriller, evoking an atmosphere reminiscent of films like “The Bicycle Thief” or “Rome, Open City.” The Hungarian countryside is rendered in lush, inky black-and-white imagery. Its characters move in and out of spaces with just the right balance of melodrama and suspense. It’s Italian neorealism by way of Michel Haneke—though “1945” never quite veers into the nihilistic leanings of Haneke’s body of work.
What plays out as a period piece fraught with paranoia and duplicity may in fact be read as a sepia-tinted allegory for post-WWII occupation. The film takes place mere weeks before the official end of the conflict, and its aftershocks can be felt in the background of this pastoral countryside. The presence of Russian soldiers constantly loom over the village, a reminder of Russia’s occupation. Even the townsfolk may in fact be occupying a place to which they may not have legal claim.
By the time the two mysterious strangers’ intentions are unmasked, it’s too late. Too much has been revealed—the damage, irreversible. What leaves this village and its inhabitants forever changed is not the admission of guilt or culpability. The sin itself, buried deep in the soil of this community, is enough to destroy its peaceful way of life and those who’ve perpetrated it.