Starring Péter Rudolf. In Hungarian, with English subtitles. Rated PG
Two men in black silently arrive by train in a dusty border town just after a heinous war has ended. It might as well be the U.S. in 1865, but in fact it’s Hungary 80 years later, with Nazi rule now replaced by Soviet occupation. You’d think such momentous changes would preoccupy the few residents left in the area, but right now they are more concerned with the perceived threat from that arrival.
No one recognizes the men, probably father and son (Iván Angelusz and Marcell Nagy), who are carrying large boxes declared to contain perfumes. But there’s the smell of fear in the air, and the strangers are assumed to be Jews. “You know: hats and beards,” says a resident drunk to the local big shot, who like most local men, has a hat and mustache. Said big shot (veteran actor Péter Rudolf) is István Szentes, the town clerk and acting mayor, and he has many reasons to worry.
He runs the only drugstore, a profit centre he wound up with after denouncing its Jewish owners and seeing them taken away. Now the Russians are likely to seize the property, if the absent Pollak family doesn’t miraculously reappear first. Anyway, István’s only son (Bence Tasnádi) is due to get married today, and he can’t even get his wife (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy) out of bed. Turns out she’s the pharmacy’s number-one customer. Their boy’s comely fiancée (Dóra Sztarenki) seems more interested in the family fortune than in the groom. And she still has a yen for her previous beau (Tamás Szabó Kimmel), a muscular soldier who fits right in with the new Soviet overlords.
Little happens and yet everything is set in motion in Ferenc Török’s quietly tense thriller, shot in sepia-toned, wide-screen monochrome, with anxiety ramped up by Tibor Szemzö’s free-jazz score—and the knowledge that Hungary itself has recently swung back toward the far right. The screenplay was adapted from Gábor Szántó’s short story, and in its draggier moments the movie doesn’t appear to have quite enough material to sustain even its fussily crafted 90 minutes.
Still, 1945 manages to work itself toward a darkly poetic finish, not with a gunfight at the train station but with the smoke of history refusing to vanish on the near horizon.