Sorstalanság: Bleak beauty

[Screenshot]This is probably the best film to come out of Hungary in a while. Unsurprising, since it’s based on the best book to come out of Hungary in a while. But I won’t be buying the American-release DVD, since it’s by the unspeakable Thinkfilm, who butchered Kontroll. FWIW, their release of Sorstalanság is better in certain aspects than Kontroll: slightly sharper video, actual extras, and chapter stops which make sense. But we still have burned-in subtites (what is wrong with you American distributors of Hungariana! Stop doing this!) and the wrong aspect ratio. Feh.

But enough ranting about the suckitude of the American release: how is the actual film? Pretty stunning. There’s a lot to see, with crisp detail and extraordinary cinematography. Lighting is used to extraordinary effect: the soft lighting of dawn and evening, the harsh light of work-hours. An important theme in both the book and the movie is how even in the camps there is beauty: this is achieved without making either the message or the horrors incidental to it seem farcical. Marcell Nagy is expressive and realistically complex; most other actors have fairly small roles. No expense was spared to make the setting realistic or camerawork top-class, with the result that, as mentioned before, there are phenomenal details which only make it that much more of a shame that the American video is so subpar. The story’s handled with a sensitive touch, which is a good thing, since the original story had opposing themes which could easily get lost in the shuffle. But horror and peace coexist in this film in a way which seems surprisingly natural.

Anyways, this is one more Hungarian film which received critical praise and public indifference. It’s a shame, really: Hungary’s producing some damn good cinema, as far as I can see. But, then, I’m biased, I guess. But this one’s worth renting (not buying, unless you’ve got a European conneciton which can get you the Hungarian disc — Thinkfilm won’t get the message if we keep giving them money); also, of course, the phenomenal Kertész novel is worth a read.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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