There Was Once . . . A Small Town in Hungary
(trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.
Though it still stands, the Kalocsa synagogue had been repurposed several times for secular uses. As a result, the commemorative tablets listing the names of Kalocsa citizens murdered in the Holocaust was moved to Budapest. Mago hopes to return them to the town as part of a memorial ceremony. Both the current archbishop and the town’s mayor are supportive of the idea, as is Kalman and several other former Kalocsa deportees. However, there are vague rumblings heard from Hungary’s new militant extremist party, clearly modeled on the Arrow Cross. Yet, with the official establishment firmly on-board, things proceed orderly enough.
On one level, TWO is a pretty compelling case-study of the Hungarian Jewry experience in the Twentieth Century. As a historian, Mago makes a particularly salient point explaining how Communism compounded the tragedy of the Holocaust. In fact, many more Jewish Hungarians returned to their homes than is often commonly understood. However, when they saw the inevitable rise of another totalitarian regime, they reluctantly emigrated, applying the hard learned lessons of history.
Shockingly, an ugly crime mars Mago’s carefully planned ceremony. However, this incident is left conspicuously unresolved, which gives the film an unbalanced feeling. While it raises some concerns for Mago and her family, the film concludes with something of a passing of the familial torch that should leave viewers satisfied and even inspired, nonetheless.
TWO is traditional in its approach, but obviously such subject matter resists unconventional treatment. Mago and Kalman relate tragic family histories with sensitivity and insight. Indeed, the notions of documenter and documented mix together, with Mago the historian recording the oral history of her subject, Kalman, while his camera captures Mago at work as an activist historian.
Laemmle Sunset 5.