Two strangers dressed in black arrive at a train depot on the outskirts of town. Their cargo, a coffin-sized wooden crate, is mounted on to the back of a horse-drawn buggy. As they begin a trek into the local village the station master rides ahead to notify the town of their arrival. The stunning black and white film has all the makings of a classic western, but the two men are Orthodox Jews not outlaws and this is not the old west but 1945 Hungary just after WWII.
Based on screenwriter Gábor T. Szántó’s acclaimed short story “Homecoming,” the post-Holocaust drama resembles Clint Eastwood’s “High Plains Drifter,” “High Noon” with Gary Cooper, and Béla Tarr’s 1994 opus “Sátántangó.” Director Ferenc Torok concentrates on an era in Hungary’s history that we see little of in feature films, the transitional period just after the war before the rise of Communism.
Russian soldiers are seen patrolling the small Hungarian village while the town’s leader István (Péter Rudolf) makes the necessary preparations for the wedding of son Arpad (Bence Tasnádi) to local farm girl Kisrózsi (Dóra Sztarenki). What should be a joyous occasion is tainted by the arrival of Hermann (Iván Angelus), and son (Marcell Nagy), two Jewish men approaching the small village on foot. As the tension begins to mount the villagers are forced to relive the sins of the past involving the betrayal of a local Jewish family. The effects of the village’s dark history are everywhere. István’s self-medicating wife despises her husband while local drunk Bandi (József Szarvas) feels compelled to confess his sins to the local priest (Béla Gados) who is not without contempt.
The ravishing cinematography by Elemér Ragályi balances the dark overtones of the story that gives the viewer the feeling that they are witnessing the coverup of a crime perpetrated by an entire village. The film’s straightforward but effective narrative holds few surprises while the talented cast strengthens the storytelling especially Péter Rudolf who makes a smooth transition from comedy to drama.
Now playing at the Regal Arbor 8 in Austin.