14-year old Gyuri Koves, like all of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Budapest, must wear the hated six-point yellow star, required to be visible at all times by German decree. His father is sent off to a forced labor camp and Gyuri is conscripted to work in a local factory. To get to his job, he must make the choice to take the bus or the train. The decision he makes will have a resounding impact on the boy’s life in Fateless.”
Acclaimed cinematographer Lajos Koltai makes his directorial debut with the adaptation of the 2002 Nobel Prize-winning novel by Imre Kertesz (who also wrote the screenplay). The story begins as Gyuri rushes home to spend one last night with his beloved father before he is shipped away. The boy promises to take care of his stepmother as the family and friends gather to wish the man well. After his father leaves life takes on a sad, routine quality for the boy as he travels to and from work.
One day, a policeman pulls Gyuri’s bus over and orders anyone wearing a yellow star to debark. The boy complies and quickly learns that the cop is pulling every bus over to remove the Jews. Their numbers soon swell as more and more Jewish men are forced to wait and see what will happen. Orders come through and they are shipped out in cattle cars to destinations unknown. When the train finally comes to a halt it is under the “Arbeit Mach Frei” (Work Makes Free) sign at the entrance of the Auschwitz-Berkenau Nazi death camp. The dehumanizing treatment they suffered at home was just a prelude to what the future holds in store under Nazi control.
Fateless” is done in a series of slices-of-life interludes that show the degradation and inhumanity of man to man. One would think that, with the horrors of the Holocaust at its center, “Fateless” would overtly show the violence that ran rampant during the Nazi campaign to exterminate the Jews and other undesirables. Koltai and Kertesz pull no punches in depicting the inhuman treatment of the Jews as they are starved, punished severely for the slightest infraction and sent to their death. But, the actual violence shown is kept to a relative minimum, making the film a more thoughtful contemplation of the Holocaust through a young boy’s eyes.
Newcomer Marcell Nagy makes Gyuri our window into a horrific world where survival is day by day and only the most resilient will live. The characters he meets as he is shipped from Auschwitz to Buchenwald to Zeitz as slave labor are genuine people, not stereotypes, and uniformly 3D. I found an emotional investment in Fateless” because of the rich writing and convincing acting.
The horrors of the Final Solution are condensed to near simplicity as Gyuri makes his journey deeper and deeper into the Third Reich. He arrives at Auschwitz and is immediately presented with the routine-seeming selection process by the Nazis. “Links! Recht!” (Left! Right!), an SS officer orders each of the new inmates as he scrutinizes them. Little do the prisoners know that his decision means temporary life or immediate death.
The daily life of the Jewish inmates is shown in all it’s inhumanity. But, it also shows the loyalty and caring that others show under the greatest adversity. The ever-present hunger (and I’m talking 600 calories a day, if that) the Jewish inmates suffer is also shown simply and effectively.
Tech credits are notable across the board. Koltai smoothly transitions from behind the camera into the director’s seat and musters well the talents of his large cast and his experienced crew. He hands over lensing chores to Gyula Pados who does a magnificent job in conveying black and white starkness to his color stock. Combine this (and solid acting) with the exemplary production design (Tibor Lazar), costume (Gyorgyi Szakacs), makeup (Balasz Novaks) and every other aspect behind the camera and you have a solid drama that tells its story extremely well.
Fateless” should be in consideration for a foreign language Oscar but it was not nominated. This is a shame. This true story takes the monumental suffering of the Holocaust and distills it into the life and survival of one teenaged boy. It does the job with compassion and precision. I give it an A-.Laura:
Laura did not see this film.
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