After a decade of attending the prestigious high profile BFI …
After a kick-off day with some alright films, variously peddling frivolous contrivance or social awareness rehash, Saul Fia (Son of Saul), the third film in the official competition, finally delivers an overdose of the goosebumps absent so far. An all-too-real horror film for grown-up audiences by first-time director Laszlo Nemes, Saul Fia should at least scoop the Caméra d’Or award for first film and a best actor prize for newcomer Géza Röhrig’s performance.
Kornél Mundruczó’s White God does for Budapest canines what Rise of the Planet of the Apes did for San Francisco simians. Instead of Caesar the ape, White God has Hagen the dog, who endures various means of suffering at the hand of human abusers before leading an animal uprising of his own. That plot point isn’t exactly a third act spoiler, as White God has an in medias res opening wherein Hagen and hundreds of dogs pelt through abandoned city streets, seemingly chasing a girl on a bicycle; the reveal is also the main image being used to advertise the film, so you might also draw a comparison to the Apes series there (“Statue of Liberty… that was our planet!”). It’s certainly an immediate attention-grabber, but it’s a ploy that undermines the power of that eventual climactic turn into ‘caninepocalypse’ mode. It’s not the only thing in the film undermined by the execution.
Dogs rise up against their human masters in Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, a film that is part-political allegory and part-bloody genre piece. The opening sequence shows a girl riding her bicycle through the sunny but deserted streets of Budapest, looking anxiously around her as she passes abandoned cars and empty buildings. Suddenly, from around the corner, hundreds of dogs appear, running with purpose, chasing and overtaking her. At this point, it feels like an apocalyptic dream, but, when White God returns to the scene later on, it has been contextualised in a narrative of oppression and justified revolt.
We’ve seen countless films depicting the monstrosity of World War II, but The Notebook gives us an unflinching look at the monsters it created. Both observant and nonjudgmental, director, János Szász, drops us into a war zone bereft of borders or buffers. Allegiances crumble and shift like the tattered landscape, where even familial ties yield to stark necessity. This is a challenging film that reaffirms the survival of the human spirit, not through acts of courage or bravery, but by harnessing our spitefulness and hatred to outlast the enemy. Whether the soul can endure such a coldhearted transformation is left for the audience to decide.
Set in a small border village over the course of World War II, Hungarian curio The Notebook is unlike any war film you’ve ever seen. Its central characters are twin boys, named only in the credits as One (András Gyémánt) and Other (László Gyémánt), who think and act as a single person. At the beginning of the film, their parents take them away from their luxurious city apartment, fearing that identical twins would be too conspicuous in wartime. They are sent to live with their mean-spirited Grandmother (Piroska Molnár), despite the fact that she has unequivocally fallen out with their mother and is suspected of murdering her husband. The only instructions given to them are to keep up with their studies and record everything that happens in a notebook. It doesn’t matter how they write it down, as long as it’s the truth.