The Zones of Twilight

The Zones of Twilight

Son of Saul and the Tradition of Holocaust Representation in Hungarian Full-Length Feature Films

Author
Gábor Gelencsér
Abstract
The success of the multiply-awarded Saul fia/Son of Saul has again directed the world’s attention to the representation of the Holocaust. This study first surveys the tradition of the Holocaust representation in Hungarian full-length feature films, then, through the analysis of László Nemes’s film, it presents an overview of those stylistic solutions which dissolve the paradox in an aesthetically innovative and valid way. From the 1950s to the regime change the directors dealing with the topic had to face both aesthetic and political difficulties, since the communist regime regarded the Holocaust not as unrepresentable, but primarily as worthy of oblivion. Although with the regime change this political pressure ceased to exist, Hungarian society is still sensitive to the theme of the Holocaust. This is why the historical survey before the analysis of Son of Saul places its subject matter in the double light of the political and poetical viewpoints, which generally applies to film art in Hungary, and in a wider sense, of the Central Eastern European region, after the Second World War.
Keywords
László Nemes; Carla Royer; Félix Máriássy; Zoltán Fábri; Erika Szántó; Krisztina Deák; János Szász; András Jeles; Imre Kertész; Hungarian film after WWII; Representation of the Holocaust.

Introduction

Invisible Story

Holocaust Representations before 1989

Holocaust Representations after 1989

“Eyes of the Holocaust”

Fateless in No Man’s Land

Son of Saul in the Zone of Twilight

Conclusion

Acknowledgements

Bio

Bibliography

Filmography

Suggested Citation

Introduction

Saul Fia/Son of Saul, László Nemes’s internationally acclaimed film, has again directed the world’s attention onto what might be called the genre of Holocaust films. The Holocaust and its representation are part of a nation’s history and culture, as well as a universally relevant phenomenon of world history with universal relevance. When the Holocaust is represented as part of national history and culture, due to the nature of the historical event, the film joins the universal narrative of the Holocaust, and also the universal discourse on the Holocaust. And conversely: even if the filmmaker’s intention is to focus on the universality of the Holocaust, they still have to make the events historically concrete. The difference lies, most intensely, in where the filmmaker puts the emphasis: whether the Holocaust is shown as part of the national discourse or the universal.

Looking at the history of Holocaust films, one finds that the more a film narrows its scope to the event itself, the more universal the meaning becomes. Meanwhile, the historical context, the preliminaries and the consequences discuss the Holocaust as part of national history. Related closely to all this, the films come up against the historico-philosophical and art theoretical questions of the representability of the Holocaust, which also brings them closer to the universal discourse.

In my essay, I endeavour to provide an overview of the representation of the Holocaust in Hungarian feature films. I will explore whether these movies represent the Holocaust as part of the national or the universal discourse, whether there is a typical pattern to be identified there, and finally, what the position of the Son of Saul is in this.

Invisible Story

The historical event of the Holocaust simultaneously raises the question of the impossibility and necessity of representability; its peculiarity and uniqueness lie in this paradox. The impossibility arises from the unprecedented degree of human cruelty. Accordingly, something that is essentially unimaginable, yet undeniably happened, does not allow representation as it would deny its very unimaginability. Similarly, necessity ensues from the scandal of human cruelty. Accordingly, the historical event of the Holocaust must constantly be made alive for the ongoing present, in other words, it must be remembered and we must be reminded of that which is unimaginable, yet happened and must never happen again. This idea is recurrently formulated in several places from classical texts to recent studies (Ricœur 1985; Alphen 2002). In his study analysing the cultural after-effect of Theodor Adorno’s famous statement “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (Adorno 1981: 34), Michael Rothberg comes to the conclusion below, also asserted by Ricœur and Alphen:

The becoming-historical of thought in Adorno thus corresponds to an ethical and political imperative to prevent the recurrence of Auschwitz, an imperative that entails a critical program of public pedagogy and an ongoing engagement with modernity and democracy (Rothberg 2000: 29-30).

A similar idea is formulated by Georges Didi-Huberman in his epistolary essay, addressed to Nemes, written after watching Son of Saul. The author dissolves the philosophical paradox in representing the Holocaust – namely, how to render the unspeakable – with a similarly contradictory comparison, according to which Son of Saul “is a beast. A necessary, coherent, blessed and innocent beast” (Didi-Huberman 2015: 7). Discussing the style of the film, Didi-Huberman formulates the same contradiction: “You have assumed the risk of representing realistically a historical reality which is often defined as unimaginable” (ibid: 25). The visual and auditory realism of Son of Saul offers an important clue to the analysis of the film carried out later in this study, where the relationship of the Hungarian cinematic Holocaust representations to realism will also be explored.

Ever since its occurrence, the question of representability of the Holocaust has triggered an exceptionally rich and complex discourse in social theory as well as in the theory of art. Today, the theoretical and artistic reflection upon the Holocaust constitutes the subject matter of scientific discourse to at least the same extent as the historical event of the Holocaust itself. It is perplexing to see how attention almost shifts from the cause to the effect, how this discourse sheds light on the concept of narrative of the postmodern study of history (White 1987), on the cultural role of memory (Assmann 1992) or on recent theories of mass culture (Huyssen 2000) instead of confronting us with the scandal of the Holocaust. It seems that the paradox of “the Holocaust as culture” also forms part of the event, as Imre Kertész writes in his essay of the same title: “The Holocaust is of value because it has led to immeasurable knowledge through immeasurable suffering; therefore it has an immeasurable moral reserve in it” (Kertész 1998a: 101).

The event of the Holocaust basically raises three possibilities of representation: audiovisual recording; narrative evocation, and fictitious reproduction blending the two. The film medium is suitable for all the three modes, therefore it fulfills an exponent role in the issue. If we consider the particular possibilities of representation, other media can also play a role in them, e.g. photography in recording, literature in narrative evocation and all forms of art, from fine arts to music, in creating fiction. The fact that the recording is set in space and time, as well as the order and context of documents inevitably turn the events into a story; the mode of recording itself and, above all, the setting and length of shots involve the indispensable fictitious element of form creation in the process. As regards the representation of the Holocaust, all this leads to yet another paradox, which Imre Kertész expounds on in another essay, entitled Long, Dark Shadow, arguing with Adorno:

We probably all know Adorno’s famous statement: it is impossible to write poetry after Auschwitz. In the same broad terms, I would modify it like this: after Auschwitz it is possible to write poetry only about Auschwitz.

Meanwhile, it is not at all easy to write poetry about Auschwitz. There is an ineffably grave contradiction involved in it: it is only with the help of aesthetic imagination that we can only form a real image about the incomprehensible and puzzling reality of the Holocaust (Kertész 1998b: 75).

Especially with the help of film-aesthetic imagination, we could add ‘with a degree of partiality’. But with that, we can also continue Kertész’s train of thought: “However, conceiving the Holocaust is in itself such a huge enterprise, such a burdening intellectual task that it mostly exceeds the ability of those struggling with it” (ibid: 75). The fact that this is especially true for film is amply demonstrated by the unsuccessful film version of his novel entitled Sorstalanság /Fateless (Lajos Koltai, 2005).

Narrowing the question of representability of the Holocaust to Hungarian film, those venturing to stage it on screen have to take into consideration another aspect besides social theory, art theory and the medium. Namely, that besides the theoretical discourse, it is influenced by a much more vulgar political discourse, imposed by right-wing and left-wing dictatorships. This is manifested in various forms in the decades after 1945. The most open of these is persistent anti-semitism, the most brutal consequences of which, in Hungary, are only averted by Stalin’s death. At the same time, anti-semitism also stirs schizophrenia and mutual fear at the level of party politics. Most Holocaust survivors regard the Soviet army freeing the country from fascism as real liberators; many of them identify with left-wing ideology and assume roles in the construction of the new regime. This extremely sensitive issue, however, remains a taboo for decades in the socio-political discourse. The result is silence, as if there were no Jews in Hungary. As a consequence, Jewish identity in Hungary is obliterated interrupting a vibrant cultural tradition of several centuries. Underlying the anathema of representation of the Holocaust, one can discern a more indirect, albeit more penetrating and destructive imperative attributable to the Kádár regime: that of amnesia. This amnesia extends partly to the 1950s, the era preceding Kádár’s, and also to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (György 2010). At the same time, the fact that this amnesia extends to the Holocaust reveals, among other things, the dictatorial nature of the regime, whose greatest fear was evoking the memory of dictatorship, even if it is of a different kind. By far the greatest taboos are the recognisable common features, despite their differences in nuance. “The reason why Stalinist dictatorship saw itself as akin with Nazi totalitarianism in this matter (as in others) seemed too obvious to call for explanation”, writes Imre Kertész in Hosszú, sötét árnyék / Long, Dark Shadow (Kertész 1998b: 77). As a result, before 1989, Hungarian filmmakers not only were confronted with the artistic questions of representability of the Holocaust but with political difficulties as well. A special situation arose from this two-fold pressure resulting in the fact that the Holocaust appears in films primarily as part of national history, an emphatically national trauma.

Holocaust Representations before 1989

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Caption from: Máriássy Félix, Springtime in Budapest, 1955. https://magyar.film.hu/filmhu/magazin/mariassy-nem-akart-hos-filmet-mariassy-felix-budapesti-tavasz-dvd

In the period between 1945 and 1989 only a few films ventured to deal with the Holocaust.1 I will focus on titles from different periods of film history: exploring what answers they give to the question of representability of the Holocaust in the medial and political force field of Hungarian feature films.

First and foremost, the Hungarian feature films made before 1989 undertaking to represent the total destruction and extermination of the Shoah, give a noteworthy aesthetic response to the complex art-theoretical question of Holocaust representation. Furthermore, they do not provide an abstract and speculative answer but one closely connected to the socio-political discourse on the Holocaust in Hungary.

Félix Máriássy is the first to confront the spectators with the image of the extermination of the Jews in his 1955 film Budapesti tavasz/Springtime in Budapest. It is not a Holocaust film but a war movie; instead of a death camp, extermination takes place at the bank of the Danube in Budapest. The scene, taking several minutes, is related to Holocaust representation rather by virtue of its form than its theme. And this is the very reason why it became “a pivotal, pioneering piece of the Hungarian cinematic representation of the Holocaust” (Varga 2003: 12) – it became a cinematic monument also inspiring the erection of a real monument (Can Togay and Gyula Pauer: Cipők a Duna-parton/Shoes Over Danube, 2005).2

The scene showing Jewish victims lined up on the bank of the Danube, shot and falling into the river, turns into Holocaust representation by the motif of absence, reappearing in other Hungarian films (Varga 2015). This mode of killing is not subjected to any kind of ‘prohibition of images’: allusively or naturalistically, we can see such sequences in numerous war movies. Máriássy, however, uses a very simple technique, parallel montage to show the antecedents of the shootings: the victims being marched and lined up, and then the consequences, the Hungarian Nazis on the river bank rummaging through the victims’ clothes, throwing the less valuable ones into the water, and finally, the clothes and shoes floating on the water. We cannot see what happened in between, namely, the slaughtering of the Jews. Not because it is death by bullet, but because it is part of the Hungarian Holocaust and as such, it is unrepresentable. Only the absence emerging as a consequence of the unrepresentable can be represented, the slowly vanishing traces of life – and the film formulates this with an elemental simplicity, in neorealist style, through the image of the foggy Danube bank and human belongings slowly floating on the surface of the turbid water.

If the Holocaust representation of Springtime in Budapest stands for neorealist style, a later experiment in presenting the Shoah fits into the paradigm of the next period in film history, the modernism of the 1960s. However, in Zoltán Fábri’s film Utószezon/Late Season (1966), the modern form of dissolving chronology and staging consciousness are not integrated organically into the drama of mourning and of facing and reliving the memory of the Holocaust, which is placed in the centre of the story.

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Caption from: Zoltán Fábri, Late Season, 1966. https://www.szombat.org/archivum/eros-ferenc-a-szembenezes-kudarca-fabri-zoltan-utoszezon-1352774037

The protagonist of the film works as a pharmacy assistant during the war. His friend, the current military commander of the city, forces him, partly by blackmail, partly by promise, to say that the couple who own the pharmacy are “perhaps” Jewish. As a consequence, they are deported. Apropos the 1961 Eichmann case, which had caused a great stir in Hungary, his friends play a joke on the old man, “summoning him to court”. He becomes scared but also takes the whole thing seriously, and demands a real trial against himself. In the course of this he recalls his past – we can see the events of the Holocaust in flashbacks –, and even the extermination camps in nightmarish visions. The modernist treatment of time takes the form of unmarked leaps in time, and of directly linking the present and the past that is, breaking radically the rules of the realist treatment of time. The simplest and most radical tool for this is that we see the protagonist as being the same age in the past and in the present, and he wears the same dark costume in every situation. This modernist treatment of time, breaking the rules of realism, opens the way for images of consciousness also detached from realism. These images enter the story as visions of the death camps.

Fábri therefore represents the Holocaust, however, in doing so, does not use realism but stylisation, which originates in the working of a perturbed consciousness. In this way, he also rejects the realist rendition of the Holocaust, and chooses stylisation in a remarkable art theoretical gesture. In accordance with the development of the story that creates the vision, the style of this stylisation is the absurd grotesque. Sometimes we see naked bodies crammed together in glass cabins, standing under the shower, sometimes the deported couple is chatting amiably in a huge and empty space, surrounded by a multitude of lampshades.

Besides the stylised visual representation of the Holocaust, the articulation of the drama of conscience caused by the Holocaust also makes Late Season a significant film. Its modernism is manifest not only in its style, but also in the way the story ends: György Rónay, the writer of the novel Esti gyors / Evening Express on which the film is based, has no mercy on his protagonist’s remorse, and his hero commits suicide. By contrast, Fábri spares his protagonist’s life so that he should carry his guilt until the end of lis life, like a modern Sisyphus (Erős 2015).

Made in the last year of the Kádár regime, Krisztina Deák’s film Eszter könyve/The Book of Esther (1989), presents a drama of conscience leading to suicide. After the neorealist style of Springtime in Budapest (cf. Figure 1) and to the modernist style of Late Season (cf. Figure 2), in this film we cannot find any significant connection to the course of history of form. The film fits into the new academic trend of the 1980s, with the emphasis shifting to a traditional narrative form and the faithful representation of the period in historical films. A great number of films concerned with the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews belong to this group, such as Imre Gyöngyössy’s and Barna Kabay’s film Jób lázadása/Job’s Revolt (1983), employing the child’s perspective; Péter Bacsó’s Hány az óra, Vekker úr?/What’s the Time, Mr. Clock? (1985), of an anecdotal character, and Sándor Simó’s “Isten veletek, barátaim”/Farewell to You (1987), of an episodic structure; Judit Elek’s (1937) Tutajosok/Memoirs of a River (1989), recording the story of the Tiszaeszlár Affair in a vast tableau3; Erika Szántó’s (1941) two films, Elysium/Elysium (1986) (cf. Figure 3), also representing the scandal of the Holocaust from a child’s perspective, as well as Küldetés Evianba/Mission to Evian (1988), examining the antecedents; and Pál Sándor’s (1939) biopic Miss Arizona/Miss Arizona (1988), featuring international stars such as Hanna Schygulla and Marcello Mastroianni. The Book of Esther (Figure 4) stands out of the series by virtue of a new manner of evoking the unrepresentable event of the Holocaust.

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Caption from: Krisztina Deák, The Book of Esther, 1989. https://mnf.hu/hu/film/eszterkonyv

At the end of the war and during the Holocaust, a woman is in hiding with her second husband. She believes her daughter is safe, but is confronted with the fact that her child was deported and most probably killed in a concentration camp. Not being able to come to terms with the feeling of guilt, it consumes her relations and personality, and finally pushes her to suicide. In this sense we witness a variation on the drama of conscience of Late Season, but here the crisis arises not from the (potential) betrayal, but from (naïve) irresponsibility – while the underlying cause here too is the Holocaust.

Krisztina Deák relates the psychological stages of total breakdown focusing on the female protagonist’s drama of conscience throughout the film. At certain stages of this process the woman reads fragments from her daughter’s diary.4 Among these stages one scene stands out when the mother meets her childhood friend, a Holocaust survivor who relates the girl’s death. This is an important moment from a dramaturgical point of view – this is when it becomes certain that everybody else already knows but the mother still doesn’t want to accept. At the same time, the short scene is significant because of the representation of the Holocaust. This time there is no flashback, there is no stylisation, we can see only the Holocaust survivors’ face and the words of remembrance which evoke the invisible and the unspeakable. The close-up of the two faces of the protagonist Eszter Nagy-Kálózy and Enikő Eszenyi playing the friend, the words giving an account of the horrors with cold objectivity and the ensuing hysteria and despair slowly overcoming both faces can express with a rare force the inexpressible meaning of these words.

Besides the actresses’ excellent performance, the effect is also intensified by the director’s unobtrusive, yet highly effective invention: the two women bump into each other in a fitting room, wearing chemises, and the friend’s dramatic monologue is delivered amid the whirl of the two undressed bodies clinging to each other, reflected in the mirror. As opposed to the gas-chamber scene of Late Season, this is a kind of stylisation which can evoke the last moments of the inmates of death camps without breaking the realism of the scene. Besides being a traditional rendition of the drama of conscience, it is this scene that makes The Book of Esther another (and also the last) significant example of the Holocaust representation in the Kádár era.

Holocaust Representations after 1989

A generation – 35−40 years – later, more recent art theoretical questions related to fictional representation arose (Murai 2008). There is a clear shift from strong rejection, but innumerable possibilities and variations emerge, and arguments may be made for or against all of them. Rejection is supported by arguments of theology and of the philosophy of history; realist representation is supported by pedagogy. At the same time, the pedagogical intent opens another debate: the documents involve the spectators of the event as witnesses, while fiction offers patterns of identification, forms an attitude and calls viewers to take a position. From another perspective, one can argue against faithful fictional representations offering immediate experience, as they take the place of memory, end the story with reassurance and relief, add these narratives to the general narrative of history – in sharp contrast to the ahistorical uniqueness and incomparability of the Holocaust (Todorov 1998). By contrast, the abstract or allusive mode of representation calls for continuous recollection. The pedagogical ethos of remembering and reminding poses a challenge for Holocaust representation in the vertical segment of culture as well. I am referring here to the question whether the Holocaust can be represented only in the context of European elite culture, or whether American mass culture can also enter the discourse. The presence of the latter in the representation of the Holocaust raises new questions, expected as well as unexpected. The working mechanism of mass culture, which can be identified with the Hollywood type of narration in film, poses the dilemma of simplification from the perspective of the philosophy of history, along with pedagogical efficiency; meanwhile, the elite culture’s complex and profound mode of Holocaust representation reaches only a limited public. Which mode should one choose then? Is there necessarily an opposition between the two? Wouldn’t it be possible for both to mutually reinforce each other? Or on the contrary, would their provoking, opposition shed light on the unfathomable scandal of the Holocaust? We can find (film) artistic responses in recent decades to each of these questions.

The debate on pedagogical utility versus falsification of history is sharpened by a landmark in Holocaust representation: Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993). We can read thought-provoking arguments for and against the film voiced in a roundtable discussion held by the periodical Filmvilág while, among many others, Imre Kertész joins the discourse (Mihancsik 1994). An appropriate use of the genre can successfully resolve the contradiction that can be reduced to the formula of ‘popular versus true’, as shown by the success of Roberto Benigni’s La vita è bella (1997) and Radu Mihaileanu’s Train de vie (1998) with critics and public alike. At the same time, there are few cinematic examples of a provocative reverse use of genres of mass culture, while in other fields one can find thought-provoking works, placing the issue of representability of the Holocaust in new contexts. Such are Art Spiegelman’s comic Maus (Huyssen 2000) or Zbigniew Libera’s LEGO concentration camp (Alphen 2002). These provocative artworks are related to film in that they draw attention to the untenability of cheap, sentimental Holocaust representations in cinema. Meanwhile, elite culture’s interest in the subject certainly lives on. Here, the efficiency of the pedagogical ethos of remembering and reminding is problematic, and so are the fundamental questions of the philosophy of history and art theory on the representability of the Holocaust.

Mention needs to be made here of recent theoretical developments in the representation of the Holocaust, as Hungarian films made after 1989 gave a practical answer to such questions. Besides auteur films about the Holocaust, films that follow the Hollywood patterns emerge as a new phenomenon in Hungary in the representation of Jewish history, everyday life and the Holocaust. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the most significant endeavour in this genre, the adaptation of the Nobel Prize-winner Imre Kertész’s novel Fateless is based on a literary work of high art, yet – perhaps against its maker’s intention – it gravitates towards popular culture. The film version does not use the self-narration and the concomitant irony of the novel. Instead, it adapts the literary work according to the rules of Hollywood narrative. If there is any positive consequence of this change of register, it lies in its mass cultural function, that is, in bringing the historical fact of the Holocaust to the broad public, even if we pay a painfully high price of sacrificing much of the novel. The only significant auteur film of Holocaust representation after 1989 was András Jeles’s (1945) Senkiföldje / No Man’s Land (1993). A Hungarian-French co-production, it is comparable to Kertész’s novel, rather than the film. This film is unique in Hungarian cinema’s representation of the Holocaust. Before comparing the two films, let us take a closer look at a motif characteristic of other Holocaust films of the period. This motif, just like the variations on the theme by genre and by auteurs mark a shift in Holocaust representation from the national discourse to the international after the regime change.

“Eyes of the Holocaust”

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Caption from: Erika Szántó, Elysium, 1986. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDOQLHWndCo

The child and the child’s gaze have an outstanding role in the representation of the Holocaust: on the one hand, the scandal of the Shoah is made unparallelled by the destruction of children; on the other hand, their incomprehension demonstrates the irrationality of the events unconceivable for adults, as well. The child’s perspective appears in János Szász’s documentary, A Holocaust szemei/Eyes of the Holocaust, shot within the framework of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994. This perspective was present in several earlier feature films, and after 1989 it became the most frequent motif across various productions. Therefore, it deserves special attention.

The motif of the child was discernable already in the 1980s and survived after 1989 – a motif that represents the Jewish fate profoundly. In Erika Szántó’s Elysium (1986), the starting point of the drama is the deportation of a little Jewish boy: in 1944, in a peaceful summer afternoon, the ten year-old Gyurika sets off to visit his parents’ friends but never returns home. During the desperate search it is said that he is so well-educated that he probably obediently joined the procession of the deportees. We, the film viewers see in the scene of deportation that this was indeed what happened … In Krisztina Deák’s The Book of Esther a woman surviving the Holocaust describes her friend’s daughter in a similar way when she recalls the behaviour of the child murdered in the concentration camp. In her increasingly perturbed recollection of the past, the little girl’s exemplary behaviour turns into an accusation, seen more and more as a Satanic contradiction that contributed to the smooth working of the Nazi machinery. Gyuri Köves is characterized by a similar well-educated obedience in Fateless when, still jovial, he is marched by gendarmes to the barracks – the first part of his journey to the concentration camps. In fact, Kertész emphasizes the boy’s obedience even more in the script. In the city living its usual daily life, the procession is interrupted by a tram at some place. Amid the confusion, a few prisoners escape. The boy notices them and could even follow their example but eventually he doesn’t. Not even when – as can be read in the script and seen in the film – the gendarme encourages him with his eyes: “Come on! Hurry! Run!” (Kertész 2001: 55).

In No Man’s Land Jeles presents from a child’s perspective the daily life in the lead-up to the Holocaust: an adolescent girl writing her diary desperately tries to interpret the (adult) world, which has turned upside down and is behaving in a ‘disorderly’ manner. Ultimately, it is uninterpretable as it is becoming more and more unintelligible and inconceivable. Maintained throughout the film, the naïve child’s perspective of searching for meaning provides a symbolic vision that becomes unimaginable with the awareness of the experience of the Holocaust. As Ágnes Heller writes in her analysis of the film: “The child’s gaze is symbolic because the child doesn’t understand what nobody understands and can never understand” (Heller 2015: 99). Thus Jeles represents the state of the world before the Holocaust not only at the level of the life of the small-town middle-class family slowly falling apart, but also with respect to the awareness of the Holocaust. This awareness or knowledge corresponds to the knowledge of the child never reaching adulthood and ‘adult consciousness’. The limited understanding of the child as a victim eminently points at the uninterpretability and absurdity of the Holocaust. The attitude manifested in the child’s behaviour is representative of the view of the Jewish fate overall, which makes it one of the most complex and profound motifs in Holocaust representation. Instead attempting a social, political, logistical, economic or any kind of rational ‘explanation’ of the Holocaust, it reports on the absurdity of the total annihilation of life, the only possible explanation of killing children.

Fateless in No Man’s Land

Besides the child’s perspective, the Holocaust representation in Fateless and No Man’s Land (cf. Figure 5) share other common points as well, while approaching their topic from the opposite directions. Before we briefly list the common features and differences, it must be stated that the comparison is only valid to Kertész’s novel and Jeles’s film. Unfortunately, the adaptation of Fateless does not follow novel’s two-fold discourse which simultaneously renders the adult experience of the concentration camp and its recollection by the adult, so that we can hear both the naïve-surprised voice of the fifteen-year-old boy and the reflected-resigned voice of the adult writer. A contemporary review of the film precisely defines Kertész’s discourse, in which “everything he says, quoted or in reported speech living in the memory of the survivor, is part of an inner monologue, a find unearthed but never made complete with the knowledge of the survivor, but handled carefully and precisely, with subtle irony” (Reményi 2005: 15). At the end of the script based on the novel, Kertész proposes to represent the story “from the camera position of future memory” (Kertész 2001: 200), however, Koltai cannot provide this camera position in his film. The film cannot authentically render the distance either with its own tools, or through the boy’s inner monologue. It is the story rather than the novel that Koltai adapts to screen. However, the story of Fateless itself is psychologically inauthentic, historically superficial and emotionally sensationalistic. As a result, the film is close to the kind of Holocaust representation that the writer sharply rejects.

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Caption from: András Jeles, No Man’s Land, 1993. https://magyar.film.hu/filmhu/magazin/simon-judittol-saul-auslanderig.html

Jeles’s film is closer to the spirit of Kertész’s novel, although it approaches the unrepresentable from the opposite direction, in spite of a series of motifs that are similar, such as the child’s perspective and the life-condition described in the title as absence, deprivation,5. Kertész leads us through the world of concentration camps and manifests his irony, arising from the inconceivability of the event of the Holocaust, already in possession of the knowledge of what comes after. The keyword of this irony is the expression recurring most frequently by narrator/protagonist: “of course”.6 Jeles’s story represents the world of before and stops at the event of the Holocaust: the unrepresentable is recalled by archival footage at the end of the film.

No Man’s Land is thus interested not in the final phase of the Holocaust, not in the otherwise unrepresentable death camp, not in human suffering deprived of everything personal; it is interested in the inner and outer story of losing one’s home, of becoming a foreigner. The film relates how one who used to be somebody yesterday becomes a nobody and how the country becomes a no man’s land. (Schein 2004: 62).

Living in the state of waiting for the unimaginable future, the story of the family is anything but normal. The world turns upside down, events that are unexplainable, especially for an adolescent girl, follow one after the other. Jeles does not represent the Holocaust because in his view it is unrepresentable; instead, he tells the story of souls living in the foreboding shadow of the catastrophe, evoking the representation of the suffering child embedded in several artistic traditions (literature, painting and music). The film constructs a fictitious world multiplied by the child’s imagination in the menacing shadow of the Holocaust. Likewise, Kertész represents the daily life in concentration camps in a reflected manner.

The difference in the direction of the two approaches arises from the difference in the nature of literature and film as media (and this is what a literary adaptation should not ignore). The verisimilitude of film resists the realistic representation of the Holocaust, as it can only be a reconstruction. To reconstruct the Holocaust is dubious and contrary to good taste not only from a theoretical point of view but also in practice (e.g. selecting extras for a scene to be shot in a concentration camp). For the film, as Jeles puts it in an interview during the shooting of No Man’s Land, “there is no possibility other than the documentary” (Báron 1993: 7). And indeed, he does accordingly in his film. Contrary to this, the conceptual sign system of literature does not need to face the challenge of verisimilitude in representation; it cannot show reality directly even by using all the poetical potentials of language. Jeles and Kertész formulate the issue of representability of the Holocaust in their own media context. Consequently, their methods are different: Jeles resorts to fiction approaching documentary; Kertész uses reflection distancing from the real event. Nevertheless, their aim is the same: to represent the unrepresentable. By doing so, Kertész’s novel and Jeles’s film shift Holocaust representation from the national discourse towards the international. Therefore, these two works can be regarded as the immediate precursors of Son of Saul.

Son of Saul in the Zone of Twilight

László Nemes’s multiply-awarded7 film, Son of Saul (2015)8 (cf. Figure 6) confronts us with the cataclysm of the Holocaust – and thereby, with the question of the representability of the Holocaust. Thus it faces a representational challenge in general and with respect to the historical tradition of Hungarian film. Nevertheless, it is (also) the job of film art to remember and remind of the event of the Holocaust again and again. Nemes positions his film in the narrow space between unrepresentability and the necessity of representation; his solutions in terms of form arise from this tension; and it is these solutions that provide the aesthetic value of the film. By placing the unrepresentability of the Holocaust in the focus of the films formal solutions, that is, by making form a kind of answer to or solution for the problem of representability, the director clearly places his work in the context of the universal discourse. And by doing so, he completes the process that began with Kertész’s novel and Jeles’s film, namely, the process, of bringing the national history of the Holocaust into the international or universal discourse. In Nemes’s film, all this is directly expressed in the internationality of the story and the characters too, or rather, their deprivation of nationality, part of the very function of concentration camps: its elimination. Another sign of the fact that here the representation joins the universal discourse is indirect: it is its international success which is grounded in its universal meaning (and this is where the hermeneutical circle becomes complete). With respect to Hungarian film history, Son of Saul’s politics of representation performs a shift from national trauma to questions of universal representability. As a result, the solution proposed by the film in terms of image politics is more closely related to the international trend in Holocaust representation than to Hungarian treatments of the topic. More precisely, this is the first Hungarian film to succeed in joining an international trend, the French tradition of Holocaust representation, pioneered by Claude Lanzmann.9 In what follows, I will primarily discuss the film from the aspect of formal solutions of image politics in support of presenting a universal meaning.

file:/data/davrails/data/davbase/generic/Apparatus_hdhq9w/gui/celenser.txt/out/docx/Gelencser-Apparatus7-prefinal.docx.tmp/word/media/image6.jpg
Caption from: Nemes László, Son of Saul, 2015. http://www.creativeeuropeuk.eu/funded-projects/saul-fia-son-saul

The film director accentuates the contradiction inherent in the artistic representation of the theme in the best possible way. He does not make a documentary film as have many, including one of the first, Alain Resnais (Nuit et brouillard/Night and Fog, France 1955), and does not replace fiction with documentary images as did András Jeles in the closure of No Man’s Land. He does not document the traces of the Holocaust as did Claude Lanzmann’s monumental enterprise, Shoah (France–UK, 1985). He does not refer to the absence created by the Holocaust as did Félix Máriássy’s Danube-bank scene in Springtime in Budapest, nor does he stylise the horror of the gas chambers as did Zoltán Fábri in Late Season. Son of Saul renders the Holocaust with the tools of feature films, that is, in the setting of a fictitious story and thus assumes the methodological framework of films, even as it is distanced from it. In an interview Claude Lanzmann calls Son of Saul an “anti Schindler List” film;10 the title of a German language review is Son of Saul, oder La vita non è bella11 – only to allude to the well-known films by Steven Spielberg and Roberto Benigni, employing various procedures of fictionalisation. László Nemes approaches the taboo of representation even better than these examples by entering the ‘middle of hell’, ‘the hell of hells’. His protagonist, Saul, is member of the Sonderkommando and works in the gas chambers: he escorts the victims into the gas chambers, gathers their clothes, rips the corpses of their last valuables, then burns them, shovels their ash into the river, and cleans the traces between two transports. The eponymous character, Saul’s son, returns from the gas chamber, only to launch the fictitious story of the film as a message arriving from there and to motivate Saul’s further actions.

The storyline of the feature film is based on real motifs. Records known as the Auschwitz rolls,12 left behind for posterity hidden in the ground and most probably found only in fragments, describe the work and position of the Sonderkommando. Interviews with a handful of survivors also serve as historical sources; it was difficult for them to put into words what they had experienced not only because of the burdening memories but also for fear of being judged later. The film, in its turn, directs attention to less known details of the universe of the camps, while also shedding light on the role of the Sonderkommando: its members were not ‘collaborators’ but victims, similar to those whose destruction they assisted in, and as the ‘holders of secrets’, after three to four months of horrible slave labour, most of them ended like the other victims (Pelle 2015). Finally, Dr. Miklós Nyiszli’s13 memoir written immediately after the war and first published in 1947 (Nyiszli 2013) can be regarded as a historical document, too; its author can be identified with the doctor in the film.

Thus Son of Saul focuses on the witnesses of the unrepresentable scandal. The photography episode fulfills the role of the motif of direct evidence. Four surviving photos taken by Sonderkommando members serve as the episode’s real basis. Besides what they represent, these photos bear witness to the circumstances of their genesis, and this aspect also leaves an imprint not only on the story but also on the style of the film.14 The other important motif of the plot, namely, the preparation of the riot, the successful breakout and the failure to escape, is also based on real events. All this happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau during the night and early hours of 6 to 7 October 1944; this where the film is set and the story takes place in these one-and-a-half days. And finally, the survival of the boy, appearing as an incredible miracle, is also plausible. According to witnesses’ accounts, a few children or babies may have survived the gas chamber because they clambered or were raised to the top of the mass, where the cyanide gas concentration was lower…

László Nemes does not eschew the taboo of representation of the Holocaust. Moreover, he gets as close as possible to this taboo, and builds his fictitious story from motifs of reality. At the same time, he does not break any taboos. On the contrary, he disproves the existence of any taboo in art. But what is more important than this theoretical result is the visceral, profound effect of the film, not presenting directly but rendering artistically the weight and depth of the scandal.

The form of Son of Saul stems from its subject matter: the event of the Holocaust is unrepresentable, this is why the narration of the story and presentation of the events must be indirect. Instead of the story of the Holocaust another story, motivated by the Holocaust, must be told; instead of the event of the Shoah something else must be shown – in its immediate proximity. What can be related and represented only appears in the background of the story and of the images, as it cannot appear directly – at least according to the taboo of fictitious representation of the Holocaust. As regards the stylistic solution in the film: the twilight zone of utterability and visibility, the real background of the fictitious story, that is, the blurred background of the visible images is evoked directly only through sounds. This multiply created twilight zone resolves the tension of representability of the Holocaust, and at the same time, makes the representation extremely tense. The gravitation of the story, mutually reinforcing with the visual and auditory solutions, is a remarkable response to the dilemma of representation in a theoretical sense, and at the same time, is extremely powerful in terms of effect. The success of the film can be ascribed to the way abstract considerations of the philosophy of history and of film theory are given a sensual form. To make the span between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ even clearer, let me refer here to the genre character of the film’s effects, namely, to thriller and horror. Certainly, Son of Saul is far from a thriller or a horror movie, it only applies the effects of these ‘twilight zones’ to evoke genre associations and provoke the viewer’s imagination.

Saul’s story, just like pacing his figure in the visual focus, pushes the historical events of the Holocaust into the background and allows the formulation of the unspeakable story in the ‘twilight zone’ of the narrative, similarly to its visual rendering. The film’s plot develops along two threads: Saul’s private story and the collective story of the camp. The former is built up of fictitious-symbolic elements, while the latter is based on real historical ones; the former ‘covers’ the latter, as Saul’s story literally blurs the one in the background. Saul claims to recognise his own son in a boy escaping the gas chamber, who is then killed and taken for autopsy. However, amid the hell of the concentration camp Saul, decides to bury his claimed or real son in the Jewish tradition. This becomes his main priority, even over the Sonderkommando’s breakout attempt. He loses the gunpowder those planning the breakout had, with great difficulty, gathered: wherever he is sent on any task, all he does in fact is look for a rabbi to conduct the funeral. He even goes to the extreme of blackmail to achieve his goal; he steals the corpse and hides it in his barrack, putting his fellows in danger; when the riot breaks out, he carries it with him in a sack; finally, while fleeing, the corpse drifts away on the river once and for all. In effect, the film evokes the story of the Holocaust in the background of a private story.

More than just being motivated by the Holocaust; Saul’s private story acquires a complex meaning within the context of the Holocaust. Saul’s aim appears to be fully irrational, or even harmful in the world of concentration camps. His Sonderkommando fellow, Ábrahám is right in blaming him: “You have betrayed the living for the dead.” But is there anyone living in the camp according to the logic of the Shoah – and not according to the logic of accidentality? In some respects, Saul’s irrationality is a rational response to the logic of the camp: there are only dead there, this is why one must be concerned with the dead. It is the ‘project’ of life and of staying alive, the escape attempt that can be regarded as irrational (and it was, indeed, as history demonstrated amply). Paying the last funeral honours, the sacred burial, is indeed irrational in the camp, and as such, it resists the essential element of the Holocaust, the industry of death. With his act, Saul breaks out of the world of history (his surname – Ausländer – means foreigner, literally “from outside the country”), gives up the fight for survival in the camp, and raising it to a higher, symbolical level: in a camp of death he fights as a priest of death against the death factory which does not simply destroy life but annihilates the sacredness of life, of the living.

Thus the story has strong theological, mythical and symbolical overtones (Saul’s obsession evokes that of Antigone), however, the ordinary, fallible, and especially uncertain and obscure circumstances of the man’s actions pull us back from the abstract universe of (semi)gods to the earthly hell with a dramatic force. Saul only claims to recognise his son in the dead boy; he says his son’s mother is a woman other than his wife. Therefore, rather than simply a sacred deed, his act can also be interpreted as a drama of conscience, while this dimension of the father-son relationship (who left whom) opens up the story for further theological explanations (Kozma 2015) – but perhaps the boy is not his own son at all, which alludes again to the mythical-symbolical reading. In my view, all of this is not uncertainty but rather fruitful certainty, through which the film provides insight into the fathomless and abysmal depth of the Holocaust – and in the meantime we should not forget the dramaturgical solution inherent in Saul’s private story, with history lurking in the background.

The same message is conveyed through the use of image and sound in the film. Their connection with narration is established by the film’s focus being restricted to Saul: as the story unfolds, we identify with his knowledge; we do not see events with his eyes, but we are with him throughout the film, following him either from behind, or backing away from the side or from the front. All of this expresses precisely the psychology of the character as well: his confined, robotic presence in the chaos of the Holocaust, then his intrepidity excluding everything else in the narrative of the funeral. The viewer obsessively focuses on the obsessed Saul – he can’t help doing this, as this is what the visual universe of the film compels him to do. But similarly to the story, beyond conveying the private drama, this visual mode of expression also entails the possibility to render the drama of the Holocaust by observing the prohibition of images.

The visual mode of expression restricted to Saul pushes the unrepresentable visual events of the Shoah into the background. The unreconstructable spectacle of the Holocaust becomes visible in the gloom outside focus of the gaze focused on the protagonist. The filmmakers make the unimaginable conceivable with this simple (?) solution, by not breaking the prohibition of images, yet, still with the means of visual rendition. In the background, instead of representing it directly, the blurred contours of visual motifs and the concrete sounds accompanying them evoke the horror of the Holocaust in an indirect way, inviting the viewer to complete the image and participate actively. The film does not see the Holocaust, only the spectator does – mediated by the film.

The film’s creators establish the ‘simple’ dialectics of sharp foreground and blurred background with a highly complex and faultless professional use of their tools; the practicality of this solution does not exclude spirituality. In technical terms, the most important means to achieve this is Mátyás Erdély’s hand-held camera throughout the film, the narrow depth of field and the predominance of close-ups. Essentially, the film does not step out of this mode of representation, which is also reinforced by the framing nature of the opening and closing images: Saul comes towards us from the blurred long shot of the forest, while his face gets sharper and sharper; at the end of the film the nature image of the world outside the camp tells about his absence. Focusing (Murai 2015) is supported by further technical solutions: the 4:3 aspect ratio, little-used today, which restricts the spectacle to an almost square plane, and in which the close-up of the face almost fully covers the background; and shooting on 35 mm film, also rarely used today, which defines the film in an ‘ontological’ sense. Contrary to the digital image, the photo-chemical emulsion offers a richness of detail and an impression of ‘reality’ which is less visible but rather perceivable, making it an important tool of conjuring in the twilight zone. Géza Röhrig’s presence as Saul demonstrates the spiritual effect of the close-up: he does not merely act his role out but is fully present; he is Saul. His mystical presence is based on reality. For decades he has been ‘living in’ the inconceivable world of Auschwitz, his pilgrimage there turned him into a Hasid, then he started to process his Holocaust trauma in poems. Röhrig’s ‘Saulness’ is thus less spiritual – while the fact that the filmmakers chose him for the main role is all the more so.

Oddly, the most spiritual element of the film’s spectacle is the most concrete one: the work of production designer László Rajk and costume designer Edit Szűcs. The accurately designed and meticulously constructed scenery is hardly visible in the blurred background of the film – while all things are there to feed our imagination in their almost material reality. The same can be said of the film’s extras, the mass ‘acting’ out the victims. The naked people are represented by the choreographed dance of dance theatre performers – while we do not see any dances, we hardly even see bodies, still, the images are infused by their composed presence, they are contoured through the gloom, and authenticate the spectacle through their accurate composedness in the border zone of visibility and invisibility, in the spirit of the nature of the spectacle.

The film’s deservedly much-praised and awarded sound universe is also based on film language and even on anthropology (sound designer: Tamás Zányi). As opposed to the blurred spectacle, the sounds are very concrete: shouting, crying, wailing, rumble, command words, gun sounds, the multitude of sounds made by bodies, and the multitude of languages (eight are spoken in the film, including Yiddish, the common language of the camps [Furman 1995: 307]). As opposed to seeing, hearing cannot be directed. As a result, the sounds of events outside the image frame and outside the visual focus can also be heard. While visual narrowing is possible, auditory narrowing is not. At the same time, the immediate audibility of sounds is less concrete information than the spectacle, as we have to imagine the sources of sounds. Therefore, the concrete sounds also form a twilight zone similar to the images, which requires the listener’s active participation (with that, the film’s auditory sphere also contributes to the generic effect). Similarly to the hidden, mostly invisible and allusive presence of the spectacle, the sound alone, without showing its sources, conveys only an indirect meaning. This is why it can be extremely concrete, almost of documentary character. The film’s self-sufficient soundtrack creates a direct documentary effect. At the same time, it is also distanced to some degree, in line with the film’s stylistic unity. Besides creating the effect of verisimilitude, similarly to the environment reconstructed with a documentaristic precision, it turns, almost unnoticed, into stylization, and thus acquires a spiritual purport.

The torrent of sounds expresses most powerfully, in the most sensual form, the chaos the survivors of concentration camps often spoke about. In the first third of the film, especially due to the sound, the sequences of chaos form an autonomous musical unit independent of the story, similarly to montage sequences in narrative films. However, even this chaos resists direct reconstruction, albeit to a smaller degree than the visual-narrative reconstruction. The film’s sound environment, consisting of human voices and noises, is basically naturalist, transcending into a peculiar musicality, into which László Melis’s film music is woven in a hardly perceivable manner. It seems as if the soundtrack of Son of Saul were the descendant of Béla Bartók’s dark night music.

There can be no doubt about the dénouement of Saul’s story: it cannot conclude in the relief of a happy ending either on the historical or on the private level. It should even be added that contrary to the majority of Holocaust films, Son of Saul does use the dichotomy good and bad characteristic of Hollywood (type) films, according to which there are bad Nazis and good victims and their helpers, and with the victory of the good the dramatic story ends in relief.15 However well-intentioned it may be, concluding in resolution and relief would be contrary the very essence of the Holocaust, where there are no winners, only ‘fully burnt victims’ (which is the original, sacred meaning of the word holocaust, and for which its use is widely considered mistaken, as compared to Shoah, which means total destruction, annihilation). For all his absurd effort, Saul cannot bury the boy/his son in the Jewish tradition, with a rabbi singing Kaddish. Under the given circumstances it is an impossible enterprise, just like the Sonderkommandos’ escape. While the breakout itself is successful, the escapees are found and slaughtered at their first stop outside the camp. Still, Saul’s symbolical effort is not entirely in vain: he rescues the corpse from the death factory of industrial annihilation; finally, the corpse will be washed away by the river, almost causing Saul’s death as well (cf. Figure 7).

Saul’s death, however, comes later; it has to be accomplished in accordance with the simultaneous historical as well as symbolic logic of the film – in a way that destruction stemming from the reality of the Holocaust takes place in the background of Saul’s symbolical story; in the “twilight zone” of the Holocaust. Accordingly, we cannot see, only hear the volley that kills the group of fugitives, with Saul among them. Before that, Saul experiences a historically authentic moment, which is strongly symbolical in the film’s system of artistic devices. In the forest surrounding the Auschwitz concentration camp (near the Polish town Oświęcim), in front of the fugitives, there appears a Polish adolescent boy, of a similar age to Saul’s claimed or real son. Saul responds with a happy and pure smile to the boy’s surprised and frightened gaze. A smile similar to the one that appeared briefly on his face when he washed the corpse hidden at the Sonderkommando’s dwelling place, but one that never shone from his inward-looking, obsessed gaze before. Thanks to the consistency of the mode of representation and to Géza Röhrig’s genuine actorial performance, a new face, a new man is born before our eyes in the last moment. This smile is addressed to the survivor(s) – in the private-symbolical foreground of historical fate presented in the twilight zone.

file:/data/davrails/data/davbase/generic/Apparatus_hdhq9w/gui/celenser.txt/out/docx/Gelencser-Apparatus7-prefinal.docx.tmp/word/media/image3.jpg
Caption from: Nemes László, Son of Saul, 2015. http://www.creativeeuropeuk.eu/funded-projects/saul-fia-son-saul

Conclusion

In the sixty years between 1955 and 2015 the representation of the Holocaust traversed a long journey in Hungarian film, from representing the national context to the international discourse. Each film, in its turn, raises the universal questions of representability of the Holocaust arising from the medium, while at the same time, they are also confronted with the current national political discourse on the topic. Hungarian Holocaust films are born in the general context of the medium and in the current context of ideologies changing from age to age. Therefore, they present not only their universal topic, but also their national socio-historical context. The most successful films are convincing examples of the cinematic representability of the Holocaust, and they meet the high expectations concerning their theme: memory. In contemporary Hungarian film, Son of Saul accomplishes this at an exceptional, hardly surmountable artistic standard and level of efficiency. Hopefully, this film does not mark the final point but rather a continuation of a tradition with a great past in film history.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund, project number 116708, entitled The Social History of Hungarian Film.

Gábor Gelencsér

Eötvös Loránd University

gelencser.gabor@btk.elte.hu

Notes

1 Meanwhile, in literature, several works written immediately after the traumatic event deal with the Holocaust, e.g. János Fóthy: The Horthy Grove. The Hungarian Devil’s Island. (Horthyliget. A magyar Ördögsziget, 1945), Lajos Nagy: Cellar Diary (Pincenapló, 1945), Ernő Szép: Smell of Man (Emberszag, 1945), Béla Zsolt: Nine Trunks (Kilenc koffer, 1946–1947).

2 http://keptar.oszk.hu/html/kepoldal/index.phtml?id=011721 [28 February 2016]

3 In 1882 at Tiszaeszlár, a little village in East Hungary, Jews were accused by killing a Christian girl. The cause ended by clearing of them, but the anti-semitic ‘blood libel’ survived in many people until nowadays.

4 The script is based on the diary of Éva Heyman, deported from Nagyvárad and murdered in Auschwitz at the age of thirteen. The story evokes the figure of the mother, Ágnes Zsolt, who published the diary with the title My Daughter Éva (Zsolt 2011), before committing suicide.

5 The title of the French version of the film is Dieu n’existe pas (Why Wasn’t He There?).

6 The word occurs in the text almost forty times, or even fifty if we include the synonymous formulations (“obviously”, “in the final analysis”, “of course”) (Kertész 1992).

7 The most important of these are: Grand Prix (Cannes, 2015), Golden Globe, Oscar Award (Best Foreign Language Film, Los Angeles, 2016).

8 The film was supported by the Hungarian National Film Fund with a relatively low budget (280.00 HUF). https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3808342/ [11.06.2018]

9 The other aspect of the French connection is the co-writer of the script, Carla Royer, French writer and screenwriter. She has Hungarian roots, and she wrote her thesis about Imre Kertész’s Fateless. Son of Saul is her first credit as a screenwriter. http://anthemmagazine.com/a-conversation-with-laszlo-nemes-clara-royer/ [11 June 2018]

10 Mathilde Brottiëre: Claude Lanzmann: “’Le Fils de Saul’ est l’anti-’Liste de Schindler’”, Télérama, 24. 05. 2015.

11 https://outnow.ch/Movies/2015/SaulFia/Review/ [28 February 2016]

12 Des voix sous la cendre, Manuscrits des Sonderkommandos d’Auschwitz-Birkenau 2005.

13 Miklós Nyiszli (1901–1956) was deported to Auschwitz in May 1944, where he became a dissecting physician under Mengele’s supervision.

14 https://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/the-sonderkommando-photos/ [28 February 2016]

15 Some German critics hold against the film its Hollywood character and stigmatize it as a “lager kitsch”, violence pornography. See, for instance, Verena Lueken’s blog (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/f-a-z-filmkritik-son-of-saul-auschwitz-sollte-nicht-gut-aussehen-14114774.html) or Jan Schulz Ojala’s review in the Tagesspiegel (http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/oscar-sieger-aus-ungarn-der-auschwitz-film-son-of-saul-fluestern-und-schreie/13070354.html).

Bio

Gábor Gelencsér, PhD., is Associate Professor at Eötvös Loránd University, Film Studies Department (Budapest, Hungary). His research interests are related to Hungarian cinema and Hungarian film adaptation. He worked as editor and as member of the editorial staff for the periodicals Filmvilág, Filmkultúra, Metropolis, Filmtett. He has published eight monographs, more than 200 essays, reviews and articles in different magazines. His books are: Magyar film 1.0 [Hungarian Film 1.0] (2017); Váratlan perspektívák. Jeles András filmjei [Unexpected Perspectives. The Films of András Jeles] (2016); Forgatott könyvek. A magyar film és az irodalom kapcsolata 1945 és 1995 között [Filmed Books. The Relationship of Hungarian Film and Literature (1945–1995)] (2015); Az eredendő máshol. Magyar filmes szólamok [Another Places. Trends in Hungarian Cinema] (2014); Káoszkeringő. Gothár Péter filmjei [Chaos Waltz. The Films of Péter Gothár] (2006); Más világok. Filmelemzések. [Other Worlds. Film Analyses] (2005); Filmolvasókönyv. Írások filmművészeti kötetekről [Film Reading Book. Essays on Film Books] (2003); A Titanic zenekara. Stílusok és irányzatok a hetvenes évek magyar filmművészetében [The Orchestra of the Titanic. Styles and Trends in the Hungarian Cinema of the Seventies] (2002).

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Kozma György 2015. “Halott fiúk. Saul fia – másképp.” [“Dead Boys. Son of Saul – in Another Way.”] Filmvilág 9. 38-39.

Mihancsik Zsófia 1994. „Spielberg bárkája. Kerekasztal-beszélgetés.” [“Spielberg’s Ark. Roundtable Discussion.”] Filmvilág 4. 24-30.

Murai András 2008. “A holokauszt a rendszerváltozás utáni magyar filmben.” [“The Holocaust in the Post-Communist Hungarian Film.] In Film és kollektív emlékezet. Magyar múltfilmek a rendszerváltozás után. [Film and Collective Memory. Post-Communist Hungarian Films of the Past.] Savaria University Press; Szombathely, 177-187.

Murai András 2015. “Képszűkítés, újrateremtés. A Saul fia és a ’holokausztfilm’ kódjai.” [“Focusing, Recreation. Son of Saul and the Codes of ’Holocaust Film’] Filmvilág 9. 35-37.

Nyiszli Miklós, Dr. 2013. Mengele boncoló orvosa voltam. [I Was Doctor Mengele’s Assistant.] Magvető; Budapest.

Pelle János 2015. “A pokol szívében.” [“In the Middle of Hell.”] Múlt és Jövő 2. 69-73.

Reményi József Tamás 2005. „Valamit kezdeni. Sorstalanság.” [“To Do Something. Fateless”] Filmvilág 3. 12-15.

Ricœur, Paul 1985. “L’entrecroisement de l’histoire et de la fiction.” In Temps et récit. III. Seuil; Paris, 264-275.

Rothberg, Michael 2000. “After Adorno: Culture in the Wake of Catastrophe.” In Traumatic Realism. The Demands of Holocaust Representation. University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis & London, 25-58.

Schein Gábor 2004. “Holokauszt: képírás. Jeles András: Senkiföldje.” [“Holocaust: Writing in Pictures.” András Jeles: No Man’s Land.”] Metropolis 4. 54-63.

Szalay Ágnes 2015. “Az 1949-es magyarországi cionista orvosper.” [“The 1949 Cionist Doctors’ Plot in Hungary”] Szombat, 2015-02-25. http://www.szombat.org/tortenelem/3651-az-1949es-magyarorszagi-cionista-per [28 February 2016]

Todorov, Tzvetan 1998. Les abus de la mémoire. Arléa; Paris.

Varga Balázs 2003. “Kötelékek. Máriássy Félix filmjei.” [“Bonds. Félix Máriássy’s Films.”] Filmspirál, 31. 3-26.

Varga Balázs 2015. “Hiányjel. Zsidó sorsok magyar filmben 1945 után.” [“Apostrophe. Jewish Fates in the Hungarian Film after 1945.”] In Vera Surányi (ed.): Minarik Sonnenschein és a többiek. Zsidó sorsok magyar filmben. [Minarik Sonnenschein and the Others. Jewish Fates in the Hungarian Film.] Magyar Zsidó Kulturális Egyesület; Budapest, 24-35.

White, Hayden 1987. “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory.” In The Content of the Form. John Hopkins UP; Baltimore & London, 26-57.

Zsolt Ágnes 2011. Éva lányom. [My Daughter Éva.] XXI. Század Kiadó; Budapest.

Filmography

Bacsó Péter 1985. Hány az óra Vekker úr?/What’s the Time, Mr. Clock? Objektív Film Studio.

Benigni, Roberto 1997. La vita è bella. Melampo Cinematografica, Cecchi Gori Group Tiger Cinematografica.

Deák Krisztina 1989. Eszterkönyv/The Book of Esther. Objektív Film Studio.

Elek Judit 1989. Tutajosok/Memoirs of a River. Budapest Film Studio – Feeling Productions, LA SEPT, MOKÉP.

Fábri Zoltán 1966. Utószezon/Late Season. MAFILM 1. Feature Film Studio.

Gyöngyössy Imre–Kabay, Barna 1983. Jób lázadása/Job’s Revolt. Társulás Studio.

Jeles András 1993. Senkiföldje/No Man’s Land aka Dieu n’existe pas/Why Wasn’t He There? Globe Film, Dialog Filmstudio, AB Films, Dom Filmowe.

Koltai Lajos 2005. Sorstalanság/Fateless. Hungarian Motion Picture Ltd., Magic Media Inc.

Lanzmann, Claude 1985. Shoah. BBC, Historia, Les Films Aleph.

Máriássy Félix 1955. Budapesti tavasz/Springtime in Budapest. Hungarian Film Production Company.

Mihaileanu, Radu 1998. Train de vie. Belfilm, Canal+

Nemes László 2015. Saul fia/Son of Saul. Laokoon Filmgroup, Hungarian National Film Fund.

Resnais, Alain 1955. Nuit et brouillard. Argos Film.

Sándor Pál 1988. Miss Arizona. Hunnia Film Studio, Hungarofilm, Video Distributori Associati S. p. a.

Simó Sándor 1987 Isten veletek, barátaim/Farewell to You. Hunnia Studio, Hungarian Television.

Spielberg, Steven 1993. Schindler’s list. Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment.

Szántó Erika 1986. Elysium. Hungarian Television, Budapest Studio, Daniel Film – Munich.

Szántó Erika 1988. Küldetés Evianba/Mission to Evian. Hungarian Television, MAFILM, Daniel Film – Munich.

Szász János 1994. Eyes of the Holocaust. InterCom, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Suggested Citation

Gelencsér, Gábor. 2018. “The Zones of Twilight. Son of Saul and the Tradition of Holocaust Representation in Hungarian Full-Length Feature Films.” Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 7. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2018.0007.26

URL: http://www.apparatusjournal.net/

Copyright: The text of this article has been published under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ This license does not apply to the media referenced in the article, which are subject to the individual rights owner’s terms.





Apparatus. ISSN 2365-7758