Fleeting Jewish Fragments In 'The Notebook'
To my knowledge, there seem to be only two Hungarian films that address the plight of the country’s Jews during the Holocaust.
One is the 1983 gem “Revolt of Job.” Now, there’s the puzzling macabre “The Notebook” (“Le Grand Cahier”) which hints at Hungarian Jews’— one scene shows the Jewish population of a small rural town being taunted by their Hungarian neighbors, another, filmed by an overhead camera, shows men, women and children being herded through a narrow street passage — suggesting cattle being driven to slaughter.
With a cast of characters out of a Grand Guignol theatre piece, one of the few people in the film to show kindness to the film’s central characters — real life twin brothers Andras and Laszlo Gyemant — is the town’s Jewish shoemaker. Improbably another is a menshlich — and possibly a pedophile — Nazi officer.
Sony Pictures Classic
It’s WWII, and the boys have been brought by their loving, doting, cosmopolitan mother to their peasant grandmother for safekeeping. A huge grotesque apparition brilliantly acted by Piroska Molnar she singlehandedly manages a farm set on a bleak barren landscape. You recoil — yet can’t take your eyes off the screen — as in a modern day version of the Hansel & Gretel fairytale, the grandmother — aka “The Witch” — works the boys to within a breath of death. Still, the boys, as they had been joined in utero by an umbilical cord, continue to cling to one another training themselves to withstand the often hard-to-witness brutality at the hands of the townsfolk and others. Each day they write everything down in their notebook.
In a rare emotional display they exact brutal revenge for the murder of the Jewish shoemaker who had shown them kindness. Based on Agota Kristol’’s best- seller “The Notebook” (Le Grand Cahier) I was stunned by director Janos Szasz’s merciless j’accuse showcasing the brutality of his country and landsmen. Perhaps it is intended to validate what I have heard many a Hungarian survivor aver, “I will never again set foot in Hungary!”
In “Revolt of Job” it is a Christian child adopted from an orphanage by an elderly barren Jewish couple — in exchange for two cows —who, in the end, witnesses his adopted parents taken away by Hungarian authorities to what was understood to be their death. In “The Notebook” the ultimate cruel twist is the grotesque grandmother who wins the allegiance of the boys when their mother and later father — separately — –return to reclaim them, holding onto them for her own reasons.
Grippingly filmed by Christian Berger there is no resolution or answers at the end when the twins make an unexpected final decision about their post war future.