Movies are best when they provide a glimpse into a world we otherwise would not explore. The Hungarian-produced “1945” presents a slice of liberated post-Nazi Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell. The film challenges us to consider what happened after.
The genre of Holocaust film has become cliched. While many profoundly important films have been made, most fit into the well-trodden tropes of “look at these atrocities,” “look at these Jews who fought against all odds” or “look at these non-Jews who did the right thing.”
Almost all cast the Nazis as faceless, expendable aggressors, Jews as victims either succumbing or subverting that status, and the populace as backdrop or exposition. Above all, these films lack ambiguity.
“1945” defies the banalities and is rife with moral ambiguity (ironically, it is shot in black and white). It is a Holocaust film without a single explicit Nazi. The Jews have a twisted, circumstantial authority. The wholly unexceptional citizens are the focus.
In the wake of the Russian liberation of Hungary, a small village is sent into a frenzy with the rumor that two Jews, possibly relatives of the town’s liquidated merchants, are returning to lay claim to their relations’ former possessions. The townspeople have assimilated this property with varying degrees of ease.
As the Jews threaten to upend the illicit social order established by the Nazis, the town’s clerk flounders to secure the ill-gotten gains through desperate and depraved end runs. The attempts and failures of the townspeople to reconcile their decisions during the short-lived reich expose the existential rot that has become the foundation of this nominally bucolic society.
For anyone who has wrangled with the moral dilemma of the Auschwitz paymaster, “1945” asks in thoughtful complexity, “What responsibility does each of us hold for the actions of our governments?” This is precisely the sort of mature exploration of collective guilt and complicity we ought to be engaging in three generations later.
Any student of history, philosophy, ethics or politics should take the time to see this film.
Above all, the searching exploration of the toll the elders’ decisions take on the town’s youth makes “1945” an excellent film to watch with multiple generations of your family, all but guaranteeing an engrossing conversation over dinner later.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 27, 6 p.m., Hollywood, and 8:45 p.m., Atlantic Station; Feb. 10, 5:55 p.m., Tara; Feb. 11, 8:10 p.m., Springs; Feb. 13, 3:45 p.m., Springs)