4 stars Berlin film festival
By Peter Bradshaw
Wednesday February 16, 2005
Former cinematographer Lajos Koltai has stunned the festival with this harrowing second world war drama about Hungarian Jews deported to concentration camps. In style and substance it owes something to Schindler's List, but has a disquieting ambiguity and sense of unresolved pain different from Spielberg. There are superb performances, including a cameo from Daniel Craig as one of the American GIs who liberate Buchenwald.
Fateless is based on the 1975 novel by Imre Kertesz, a quasi-autobiographical work about his experiences as a 14-year-old deported to the camps from Budapest. Marcell Nagy plays Gyuri, a boy whose father has been ordered to report to a forced-labour camp. After his agonising leave-taking, Gyuri follows a neighbour's advice and travels by bus rather than train to work. This happenstance takes him to Auschwitz, as the authorities are rounding up Jewish bus passengers for deportation.
Like Primo Levi, Gyuri finds there is no "Why?" in Buchenwald, where he ends up: a hell in which barbarity and sadism are normal. In an almost unwatchable scene the inmates parade for hours, swaying with nausea and exhaustion, as if in grotesque, parodic prayer.
Later, Gyuri discovers his bunkmate dead, but finds himself unable for days to tell the guard - so he can take the extra ration of bread.
After liberation Gyuri returns home, but people react to the gaunt, shambling ghost with shock, embarrassment and incomprehension. Gyuri has become amputated from his own emotions, his own humanity, even feeling nostalgic for the camp's occasional moments of fellowship - the movie's most provocative moment. He says he feels future happiness waiting for him "like a trap". Whether or how the audience can believe that is an open question.
This is an extremely powerful film that has captured the imagination of festivalgoers.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005