About as different from its 2004 Ryan Gosling — Rachel McAdams namesake as possible, The Notebook (A nagy füzet) recounts the harrowing saga of unnamed teenage twin boys (András and Lázló Gyémánt) who, in 1944 Hungary, are unceremoniously dumped by their mother (Gyöngyvér Bognár) at their grandmother’s (Piroska Molnár) remote farm for protection from WWII horrors.
There, the old “witch” beats them and berates them as “bastards.” In response, the siblings teach one another how to endure pain and hardship. Bleak circumstances lead to bleak moral codes in János Szász’s sobering wartime drama, as the boys study the Ten Commandments but find that blackmail, cruelty, and murder are not only acceptable in this austere environment but also often the best means of exacting justice.
Be it earning the respect of a Nazi commander (Ulrich Thomsen) who works at the nearby concentration camp, or exacting vengeance against a young anti-Semite beauty after the death of their Jewish shop-owner friend, the Gyémánt brothers’ protagonists fight, wail, and bleed their way to maturity.
Szász’s harrowing film roots that coming-of-age process in suffering, depicting it with a grim solemnity that, by never wavering, ultimately leads to a tempered measure of unexpected hopefulness.