By Anne Feuillère
Fateless has undoubtedly been one of the main events this year in Berlin, and this in many respects, starting with its last minute selection in the official competition. Its being directed by the Hungarian master of picture direction, Lajos Koltai, is one of its other strengths.
The film is indeed very promising but may raise controversy; it already has in Berlin. The fact that it was adapted from a novel by Imre Kertész, Nobel Prize 2002 in Literature, surely gives it some credit, but Koltai’s film tackles the difficult question of the limits of fictionalisation. In this regard, it goes against Claude Lanzmann’s assertion that all attempt to represent the Shoah should be forbidden. Fateless recounts the gradual disincarnation and the final loss of identity of a 14-year-old boy, remarkably interpreted by young Marcell Nagy. From the implementation of the yellow star to his deportation to Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Zeitz and later to his recovered freedom and return to Budapest and civilisation, Köves is on the verge of madness. The filmcs aesthetized presentation of an unconceivable reality may shock, but every element ¬—the carefully constructed scenes, the blurry spots, the choreography of bodies, the colours even— is perfectly mastered. The further we go from the initial poetic innocence of the child, the more we sink into nightmare, and the more irreparable Köves’s fall seems. In fact, the aesthetics of the film emphasizes this subjective psychological approach, and so does the narrator’s voice which, by commenting on the images, participates in the work of reconstitution and memory. Not to forget fantasy, for the film, built upon a series of sections separated by a system of fade-to-blacks, mimics the growing incoherence, verging on madness, of the character’s conscience and his loss of all links with reality.
To the provocative questions asked by the journalists, Imre Kertész answered by explaining how he himself made corrections on the script. The script as he first received it seemed suspiciously catchy: ‘The script-writer was over-concerned about the effect the movie would have on a screen. That is why I agreed to rework it myself. The strength of the novel resides in this simple pattern: a little boy is swallowed and destroyed by the mechanics of murder. I wanted my movie to look into his soul.’ Koltai adds, ‘I was deported myself, so I don’t see how I could betray reality.’ But he and Kertész both wanted to show that beauty can coexist with horror, some kind of beauty at least. ‘I did not want my film to be dark...The beauty in it gives it a nice and quiet rhythm as well as some dignity.’
Fateless was coproduced by the Hungarian company Magic Media (thanks to a very high financial contribution from the Hungarian Motion Picture Foundation), the Germans of EuroArts Entertainment Filmproduktions, and the British Renegade Films. Fateless also benefitted from the German funds MFG, MDM, and MDR. Such financial collaboration between these partners is quite novel, and this, too, makes this film an event, not only in Berlin but also in the history of European cinema.
(17th February 2005)