Fiercely unsentimental and surprisingly beautiful, Hungarian drama Fateless does the seemingly impossible: it succeeds in portraying the subject of the Holocaust in a new and devastating light. Based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Imre Kertész, it's the story of 14-year-old Hungarian Jew György Köves, whose unremarkable arrest on a bus in Budapest leads to Auschwitz, Buchenwald and near death in a smaller German labour camp. It's a handsome and large-scale production but don't go expecting another Schindler's List. Lajos Koltai's film is far more ambiguous, disturbing and, ultimately, uplifting.
The film's unusually honest tone is established early on: the teenage György is more eager to catch a glimpse of a pretty girl than grasp the implications of his father's departure to a forced labour camp. When György‘s own arrest comes, it's no portentous event but an everyday, almost farcical case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Leaping straight through the big events of history, the film instead concentrates on György's everyday experiences, all the more convincingly portraying the boredom as well as the terror, the moments of camaraderie as well as the brutality of the camps.
"MOMENTS OF BEAUTY"
Former cinematographer Koltai finds moments of beauty too: piles of left luggage outside the transports in Auschwitz; swaying line-ups of striped prisoners forced to stand for hours on the parade ground. The acting, especially from the young Nagy, is also superb. So when at the close, György expresses nostalgia for the fellowship of the camps as well as hope for the future, the audience cannot help but understand and be moved.
In Hungarian and German with English subtitles.