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TH!INKFilm presents
Fateless (Sorstalanság) (2005)

"I was beginning to grasp the simple secret of my universe; I could be killed anywhere, any time."
- György (Marcell Nagy)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: May 08, 2006

Stars: Marcell Nagy
Other Stars: Áron Dimémy, András M. Kecskés, József Gyabronka, Endre Harkányi, Daniel Craig
Director: Lajos Koltai

MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing Holocaust images, including nudity, and brief strong language
Run Time: 02h:20m:11s
Release Date: May 09, 2006
UPC: 821575546652
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-CA- B-

DVD Review

If answering honestly, many people would probably respond to the prospect of watching Hungarian-import Fateless with a weary sigh: "Another Holocaust movie?" More than 60 years after the last concentration camps were dismantled and the world united under the rallying cry "never again!" the terrible atrocities committed against European Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, and millions of other "undesirables" haven't exactly been forgotten, but it's certainly starting to fade, to lose a bit of its potency among those two or three generations removed. Films like Schindler's List and The Pianist may seem the definitive statements on the subject, but a story like Fateless proves there is always more to be said about it.

Not that the movie is worthy solely due to the subject matter. Here is a picture that offers a different way of looking at the Holocaust, one missing so many of the tropes that have become familiar from so many films and documentaries: piles of suitcases, sneering Nazis, the lines of women and children herded into showers of poison gas. Instead, it offers the experiences of one boy, György (Marcell Nagy), a Hungarian Jew somewhat arbitrarily taken from his home in Budapest and sent to a forced labor camp. Hungary was an Axis ally during the war, and until the Nazis overthrew its government in 1944, its largely assimilated Jewish population escaped unharmed. György has never considered himself particularly religious, and has no answer for his tearful schoolgirl crush when she asks him what it means to be Jewish. György doesn't know, it's just his fate.

Based on the novel by Nobel Peace Prize-winning author Imre Kertész, Fateless tells György's story in intimate, poetic detail. We see only what he experiences. Early on, when his father voluntarily leaves when assigned to a forced labor camp, György leaves school to work in a factory. On the way, his bus is stopped and a hapless policeman tells all the Jews to get off (he assumes, wrongly, it is for a simple ID check, but some of the Jews know better). At the train station, a crowd of Jews is separated into two groups, including the children. György lies about his age and is sent off with those who will go to work. We can only fear the worst for the rest, but because he doesn't know their fate, neither do we. He's loaded into a train car with a hundred others, and they travel for days with no food or water. They arrive at a "provincial" camp, and György notes that it's smaller than he figured, and there aren't any showers. He is put to work shoveling granite rocks out of train cars. Time passes. With little to eat, György begins to lose weight, but he also becomes accustomed to the routine. He makes a friend (Áron Dimémy), who gives him survival tips—ration the food, keep clean.

György relishes that "special time of day," an hour in the evenings when the workers were allowed to roam freely and eat. Unimaginably, he seems resigned to the fact that he is but one small part of a larger organism. He realizes that, just as he cannot control the fact that his religion has put him in the camps, nor can he do anything to save himself. The clarity gives him a kind of peace that escapes the other prisoners, and perhaps, a quiet, haunted strength. He sees honesty in that life, a world were the random pattern of life and death is laid bare.

Things, of course, get much, much worse as the work gets harder and György gets weaker. But the film retains a lyrical, terrible beauty. Director Lajos Koltai, an Academy Award-winning cinematographer, favors impressionism over realism, and the early scenes are golden-hued, almost sepia toned, slowly draining away until only icy blues and grays remain. There isn't much dialogue, but the pictures tell the story, especially the close-ups of Marcell Nagy, whose piercing eyes grow dull and lifeless as time passes.

There isn't much of a plot here; Kertész, whose own life story mirrors his protagonist's, isn't trying to tell the whole story of the Holocaust, or make some kind of grand statement. It's just the experience; stripped of familiar images of violence and burning bodies, it seems tolerable, until you see what it does to him, and register what the experience really meant. In the same way a personal tragedy seems so much more terrible than a mass grave glimpsed on the news, the film has a power and immediacy that will stick with you.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Disappointing. This is the second Hungarian film (after last year's Kontroll) that ThinkFilm has released in Region 1 with a sub-par, nonanamorphic transfer. Who knows, maybe the distribution deal won't allow for anything better, but I do know there are R3 anamorphic editions of both movies that are said to be stunning.

As it stands, this is an okay image, considering. The stylized cinematography actually hides some of the flaws, as a slight softness and loss of detail is masked by the sepia-toned color palette. I didn't spot any edge enhancement, but there is a fair amount of grain and some obvious digital artifacting when the image is enlarged on a widescreen TV. The burned-in subtitles are clear and readable.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio mix is subtle, but strong. The haunting score takes full advantage of all the channels, as do sound effects, when required. Dialogue is clear throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Protocols of Zion, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: An interesting interview with writer/screenwriter Imre Kertész (27m:45s) offers some interesting information on the film's themes and the process of making it. He reveals he originally had no desire to write a script, but changed his mind when he read a draft by a screenwriter-for-hire that he felt totally missed the point. He also has harsh words for Schindler's List and Spielberg, who he "dislike[s] very much." He calls that movie "a mistake" because "all this horror is pictured like the victory of humanity, but humanity will never get over the Holocaust." He then wins friends by complaining about the effort to interview the remaining survivors because they are just "500 old ladies" telling the same stories over and over again, and "we know that;" the proper way to really experience the tragedy is to experience one person's story in detail, hence works like Fateless or The Pianist (though the interview was conducted before Polanski's movie was released). The piece is subtitled, and the translation is full of spelling and grammatical errors ("week" instead of "weak," and so on).

The shoddy translation worsens ("Aren't you nervous about the pictures to be born?" or "Finance a movie size like this, neither is easy") in a 23-minute making-of piece that features interviews with the director, actors, and producer and some on-location footage. It isn't very substantive, and interesting details are glossed over (filming apparently "nearly collapsed" and then started over... Why? How? Who knows?).

There's also a numbing trailer, featuring Mr. Voice in "serious" mode, to let you know this is an important film (I love it when Mr. Voice reads excerpts from reviews) and promos for The Protocols of Zion and The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Fateless, like so many Holocaust films before it, shines a light on the horrors of the darkest time in modern history, but by keeping an intimate focus on one boy's understanding of the experience, it also offers something new—and earns a place next to the most heralded entries in the genre.


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