June 19, 2009
It’s hard for me to think about the work outside my own history and family. My father is a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. The language speaks to me in the rich sounds of my childhood. Budapest registers on the edges of places that matter to me. The meaning of my Jewishness is as unclear to me as it is to the boy in the film (and the boy who was my father) who is nearly killed for it. But, I tend not to get particularly personal here (oddly, I think, as so much of my scholarly and video work is autobiographical). I’d rather talk about the film (and book) in relation to interests I’ve continued here, about cinematic representations of trauma, revolt and analysis.
What I loved about the book is sentimentally undone in the film. Namely, the book drains the Holocaust narrative of drama, well really melodrama, and retells it as a matter of time and sense-making. Getting through time, making sense of the meaninglessness of illogical violence and suffering. The film script, also written by Imre Kertész, maintains the affectlessness of the willing witness to madness, and Lajos Koltai’s pacing, and images, let things play out where nothing but time (and violence and suffering) seems to matter. It is the Ennio Morricone score that undoes this emptiness, working its melodramatic strains against the flat surfaces of image and language. I think about how documentary can show the fact of things without necessarily attempting to infuse meaningless reality with sentiment, and feel that, again, in this way, fiction film has much to learn from records of the real.