4 Stars – Powerful
With a deliberate pace marked by the plodding hoof beats of a horse-drawn wagon, 1945 slowly creates a masterpiece. Similar to the Tell-Tale Heart of Edgar Allen Poe, this is a tale of the impact of guilt as it both eats away at the guilty and creates its own justice. Having cost the victims their family, fortunes and lives, those who perpetrated such a crime experience the just results of their sin. Written by Hungarians Gábor T. Szántó and Ferenc Török and directed by Török this subtitled film takes place in an unknown Hungarian village at the end of World War II. In its obvious universality to all villages where the locals benefitted from the Nazi holocaust, we have a snapshot of what happens even in the United States when our Japanese-Americans were taken from homes and businesses and placed in desert camps. We know Japanese families who live in Santa Barbara whose parents lost everything because of the internment and had to rebuild upon their return, fighting post-war prejudice.
In this every-town film, the focus is on a group of people who conspired together to secure the business and home of a relatively wealthy Jewish family. We won’t spoil the intrigue of how this all works together, but the ensemble cast are underplayed and compelling. The instrument of judgment comes in the simple presence of two Jewish men dressed in their orthodox attire. The older man, Samuel Hermann (Iván Angelusz) is accompanied by his son (Marcell Nagy). Without a word of condemnation or explanation, just their very presence brings the years of debilitating guilt to the surface and fearful anxiety into play.
The power in the film is in its simple record of moral consequences. There is no religious message pronouncing judgment or declaring God’s expectations. Instead the Priest (Béla Gados) is a pathetic example of Christian morality, let alone of God’s love. But the reoccurring cross on the road into and out of the village is a clear reminder that this village, as does every village, is under the watchful eye of God.
In Christian theology the consequences of immorality, such as we see in this film - greed, murder, adultery, pride - is called the “wrath of God.” But by that is not meant God’s anger. Christian theology teaches that God sorrows with those who suffer because of their sins. Instead the “wrath of God” is the inherent justice God has placed into the world such that when we cause a person to lose wealth or family or life, then the cost will often be our wealth, our family and our lives. This is the message powerfully portrayed in this film.
War has always given people the opportunity to take from their neighbors. Often called the “spoils of war,” these treasures are cursed, not in a magical way like the gold coins in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, but in a psychological and spiritual manner. The very things that a business and home are meant to provide are illusive when we steal them, especially from a friend.
Like the winners of the lottery who pay dearly for their desire for wealth, we clearly live in a moral universe where the ultimate joys come from love and not from money. How have you learned that lesson in your own life?
The convicting power of guilt that takes away the promised happiness of an unjust or immoral act is shown throughout history and by our artists. Why do you think so many of us ignore these lessons? Do we think that we might be the exception to the moral universe?
As Christians, the complicity of the Priest in this fictional film is a great disappointment. Do you think this is true to life or are most pastors true and faithful to God? What has been your experience? How do you deal with the sins and fallen humanity of priests and pastors?