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Gyuri Köves (Marcell Nagy), a 14 year old Hungarian Jewish boy whose father (János Bán) has been ordered to report to a forced-labour camp in 1944 Budapest, follows a well meaning neighbour's advice and travels by bus rather than train to work, at a brick factory on the outskirts of the city. The bus is stopped and a policeman orders Jews off the bus and Gyuri is soon en route to Auschwitz, as the authorities round up dozens of Jews for deportation. His existence becomes a surreal adventure in adversity and adaptation, and he is never quite sure if he is the victim of his captors, or of an absurd and eccentric fate. He is befriended by fellow Jewish prisoner, Bandi Citrom (Áron Dimény), but nothing can shield him from the realities of the concentration camps - except an acceptance of his lot.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Hungary's most expensive feature ($16 million) and the first shot in Panavision, is also the directing debut of Lajos Koltai, long time cinematographer for Istvan Szabo. No surprise, then, that the film is superbly photographed by Gyula Pados, and embellished by a sensitive score from veteran composer Ennio Morricone - and some songs by Lisa Gerrard. With its mordantly authentic production design, the film plays as a showcase for filmmaking excellence in every department. It's not just expensive, though, but effective and haunting.

The subject matter would suggest that it's another Holocaust film, but the book on which it is based is a far more personal journey. Koltai avoids repeating the shocking images that have de-sensitised many of us to the horrors of the Nazi camps, and wisely concentrates on the people - especially Gyuri (Marcell Nagy). This teenager's experiences during the war are not unique in as much as millions shared the Holocaust. Yet what Koltai manages to do is extract Gyuri's voice from the white noise of those millions and give us a unique personal journey. Intense and gloomy, the film is not escapist entertainment, but it has loads to say about human beings.

The interaction between Jewish inmates in the camps make an immediate backdrop for Gyuri's journey, and his sparse narration provides us with a reading of the internal emotional word that the author has translated from his Nobel prize winning book to the screenplay.

The final monologue, over images of war-damaged Budapest, will resonate with me for a long time, as Gyuri reflects on his life, which seems to have been born aloft by his acceptance of fate's intervention. If he was to endure this buffeting, so be it.


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