I'll never forget arriving into the Calcutta train station early in the morning - more than two decades ago - and seeing the dozens of squatters beginning the day. One by one, they woke up, lit their breakfast fires, and began chatting and laughing. This sight has stuck with me, and informed me ever since. I realized, and have observed repeatedly through work with uxo (unexploded ordnance) victims, war victims, and sexual assault survivors, how hardy the human spirit is. People can seem to find a modicum of beauty and pleasure in virtually every situation. As profane and implausible as it seems, 14 year-old Gyorgy Koves remembers beauty from his time in German concentration camps in the feature "Fateless."
Gyorgy, played by Marcell Nagy, is the quiet self-possessed boy who ends up in camps, after being pulled off a bus heading to work. Hungarian writer Imre Kertesz' 2002 Nobel Prize winning autobiographical novel is the basis for the "Fateless" screenplay.
First time director and distinguished cinematographer Lajos Koltai communicates with stunning visual composition with light and shadows. The muted grays are infused with enough light to hint that there is more to the story than meets the eye, perhaps a reference to the resilience of the human spirit.
Ennio Morricone's noteworthy score doesn't attempt to manipulate or intrude. The music adds a rich layer to the story, bringing it to life.
"Fateless" is unique in its genre because it is told through the eyes of a boy, and because of Gyorgy's poetic sensibilities. After Gyorgy returns from the camp, he meets people who try to dismiss his experience. Old family friends tell him that it's all over and to "focus on the future." The reality of it is too overwhelming for people to contemplate, and Gyorgy is left to manage his own memories and strong emotions.
Remembering the structured life in the camps with his friend who always watched his back, Gyorgy observes, "Life there was cleaner and simpler." He says the camp possesses a certain kind of beauty. This is a sentiment not unfamiliar to soldiers who return from combat talking about the elegance of the simple rawness when life is reduced to living or dying.
Gyorgy gazes into the mirror, appearing as if he doesn't know whom he sees. He says, "Lying in wait for me like some unavoidable trap is happiness…. People only ask about the horrors whereas I should talk about the happiness of the camps next time, if they ask. If they ask at all, and if I don't forget myself."
This work of devastating power will stay with me forever. Learning a personal story is more affecting, making statistics become real; maybe we should show this film in high school social studies classes.
For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield. © Air date: 3/1/06
© 2006 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 31/06
Director: Lajos Koltai