'Sorstalansag' (FATELESS) is an inordinately powerful, quiet journey through a year in Nazi Concentration Camps at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Zeitz. Adapted by Imre Kertesz from his first novel, the story is semi-autobiographical as Kertesz spent a year of his youth in Auschwitz as a Hungarian Jew. Though Kertesz alters his novel of the life of one Gyorgy Koves, in a manner he carefully explains in one of the featurettes accompanying this DVD, the observational skills and tenor of his literate mind suffuse this surprisingly quiet depiction of life in a death camp.
We first meet Gyorgy Koves as a curly headed handsome 14-year old youth in 1944 bidding farewell to his beloved father as he departs for a labor camp. Wearing the yellow star of David proudly, Gyorgy has little understanding of what it is to be a Jew, a lesson he will learn in the coming year and affect his perception of the world and his place in it. Gyorgy's mother left his father and his father has remarried and requests that Gyorgy stay with his stepmother while he is away 'for a while' in the labor camp. Gyorgy is conflicted as he loves his mother but he does as his father requests. Almost inadvertently Gyorgy and his friends are taken off a bus and separated by the Nazis into trains bound for concentration camps. Gyorgy remains relatively naive about what is happening: his head is shaved, his worldly goods are absconded, and he begins the hellish life of survival in Auschwitz. Where Kertesz writes differently than other authors who have described Holocaust conditions is in his mindset of Gyorgy: Gyorgy strives to retain a sense of equilibrium in this bizarre new life, seeing certain events as probable errors, mistakes, or simply 'the way things are'. He endures starvation, brutal work, pain from an injured and infected knee, boredom, and observing sights of torture of his fellow prisoners. Though he is walking in a stunned world, he is still able to fine the little moments of 'happiness' because of his youthful outlook and creative mind. He gradually grows to understand what being a Jew means, and while he is unable to fathom all he sees in captivity, he learns that if he can't understand life in a concentration camp, how can he understand life outside either. Gyorgy is literally on the carts moving toward the crematorium when the Allies free the camp. He meets an American (Daniel Craig) who suggests he not return to Budapest, but go to America instead where he can pursue a new existence. Yet Gyorgy's devotion to family, to country, and to being a Jew returns him to Budapest where he finds a destroyed city that had been home and wanders the town square trying to make sense of it all.
As Gyorgy Koves, Marcell Nagy gives a stunning performance, a picture of a child/man who is forced to enter the world of adulthood via the horrors of Auschwitz. Nagy captures the essence of the character with minimal dialogue and maximum use of his body language and eyes. The supporting cast is superb, each creating vignettes in the few moments we see them that burn into our memory. The cinematography by Gyula Pados uses subdued color for the scenes outside the camps and a subtle sepia toned black and white or the scenes within the walls of the terrifyingly real buildings and yards of the camps. The musical score by Ennio Morricone sustains the mood throughout. But it is the director Lajos Koltai whose impeccable sensitivity to Kertesz' writing and vision that makes this long (140 minutes) film a seamless pondering of the passage of time - minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, etc - that is the essence of Gyorgy's survival of a nightmare 'with little moments of happiness wherever they may happen'. This is a magnificent film, by a gifted crew, and though it contains visuals that will crush your heart, it must be seen to be believed. In Hungarian and German and English with subtitles. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp