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East European Cinema

Jewish identity in Hungary

I’m looking forward to our discussion of Fateless. I don’t know what to expect, but I got the impression that most people were moved by the film. I’m still mulling over what writer and director Imre Kertész and Lajos Koltai were saying about Jewish identity in a Hungarian context. I discovered this passage in an interesting web account of an American filmmaker’s fascination with Hungarian Cinema:

History, the staple of Hungarian cinema, now presents an obstacle. Director Diana Groo (26) explains that today’s filmmakers are searching for new topics and new stories and that they are not allowed to retell the stories of the past. “We are the third generation after World War II. Our parent’s generation could talk about communism and they were closer to their parents war experience. For us to talk about the past is very unusual. As a result, our generation is not just searching for money, but also for an identity and topics that will appeal to a broad audience. We no longer have a common landscape. Everybody is searching to express him or herself. The style of a 1990s director has to be completely different from Szabo, Makk, Jancso, Elek or Rozsa.”

What sets Diana apart from many of her colleagues is the fact that she is Jewish and that her heritage still carries plenty of baggage in Hungary. “The Prime Minister,” Diana recalls “recently said that only those who follow the Christian-Hungarian tradition and are proud of the states foundation are Hungarian.” As a result of this continued conflict, Diana aspires to continue the socially relevant trend of Hungarian filmmaking. History must indeed answer to man. Diana sees her heritage as an asset, an inner conflict that translates to story. When the iron curtain came down, she along with many young Jewish Hungarians immigrated to Israel but there, Diana felt too comfortable. “To be Jewish in Israel is different. It’s like, I’m here – it’s okay. I don’t have a conflict any longer. I started to miss the conflict. It was my identity. To be Jewish in Budapest is much more interesting because you have to fight.” It’s no surprise that Diana chose this struggle as the topic for her stories. She recently came to New York with a documentary on the former Jewish Ghetto in Budapest and she is currently working on a documentary about the young Hungarian Jews who emigrated to Israel only to return to Hungary. For her feature, Ms. Groo is developing a love story about a chance encounter between a Jewish girl from Budapest and a Jewish man from New York. The film will compare the bonds of heritage via New York and Budapest. (Laurent Rejto on http://www.farmhousefilms.net/hungarian_cinema.htm)

“I started to miss the conflict . . .” reminds me of the two occasions in Fateless when György tells us that his favourite time of day in the camp was that hour between the return from the factory and the evening meal. I take this to be a reference to the sense that the the contrast between hard labour and relaxation was so important because being in the camp became part of his identity. Only if this was the case could the relaxation be enjoyed. Without the camp there would be no magic hour.

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