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Ferenc Török’s black-and-white drama, which compellingly charts the course of just a few hours in a Hungarian village on August 12, 1945, probes an underrepresented slice of Second World War history — the brief pocket of time between the fall of fascism and the implementation of Communist rule. Török considers this fraught climate through the p.o.v. of the town’s boisterous notary, István (Péter Rudolf), whose firm grip on the populace starts to give following the arrival of two Orthodox Jewish ex-residents (Iván Angelus and Marcell Nagy). Their appearance stirs feelings of guilt in the villagers who have prospered in the wake of the forced removal of the Jewish population. On top of this, István has his son’s wedding, set to take place later that day, to worry about; an early scene in which he corrals a hoard of people for a celebratory shot of brandy speaks at once to his domineering charisma and to the fragile nature of his power — each successive forced handshake and fraternal smile is like a crack in the facade of his performative veneer. (Rudolf, stocky and bald, plays István convincingly in the manner of a pitbull run amok.) Though these tensions develop over mere hours, Török (adapting Gábor T. Szántó’s short story “Homecoming”) manages in his 91 minutes to squeeze in pleasing detours into period detail, as in one shot that pans up from a woman’s churning feet to the Singer sewing machine on which she is working. Collaborating with DP Elemér Ragályi, Török also invests the movie with strong visual motifs, perhaps most prominently a consistency of shots that peer at characters through everyday barriers (windows, curtains). The resultant sensation of uncomfortable prying underlines the boiling suspicions that power the plot.
Directed by Ferenc Török
Opens November 1, Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinema