Dir. Lajos Koltai.Hung-Ger-UK. 2005. 136mins.
Initially offered a lessprestigious slot at Berlin, the producers of Fateless have been provedjustified in holding out for the competition slot which it was awarded hoursbefore the festival began.
Oscar-nominatedcinematographer Lajos Koltai's (Malena, Being Julia) grim andsober debut initially seems like any other neatly calibrated, if hardlyexceptional Holocaust drama - until it gradually accumulates a terrifyinglychilliness that pulls audiences through its 136 minutes.
As such it can expect notonly prize recognition at Berlin but also a respectable career afterwards onboth the awards podium and at sympathetic box offices.
More intimate and moreaffecting work than the likes of Schindler's List and The Pianist,it strives - despite its lavish production values - to present events in asunsentimental a manner as possible.
Fateless' potential audience should encompass cinemagoers whoalso watched those films, although its emotional demands on audiences and thefact it is largely non- English language may mean comparatively softercommercial returns.
No sales agent has beenannounced as yet for the film, which closed the Hungarian Film Week, althoughit is rumoured that Medusa has already taken rights for Italy.
Adapted by Nobelprize-winner Imre Kertesz from his celebrated first novel, the film centres onGyorgy Koves (Nagy), the lively but average 14-year-old son of a divorcedJewish couple living in Budapest during the early 1940s
One day, on the way to oneof the work schemes set up by the Nazi-backed regime, he is taken off a bus,put into a building with other Jews and kept there by a benevolent policemanwho explains he is awaiting further orders.
At first it seems likeanother one of the many daily miseries visited upon the Jewish population. Butas the unsuspecting prisoners are submitted to more and more investigations, soan irreversible and horrifying chain of events is set in motion.
Panic replaces uncertaintyas the captives are herded into trains and sent across the border to Poland andthe fatal selection that will dispatch the weak to the Auschwitz furnaces.Others, among them Gyorgy, head for Buchenwald.
Beaten, famished andtortured, the young teen tries to rationalise the horror of his existence inthe camp, attempting to preserve human dignity in a place dedicated to itsdeprivation as his decaying body is drained of its last reserves of energy.
As the Allied forcesapproach and order collapses in the camp, Gyorgy is miraculously pulled from apile of mangled corpses destined for extermination and onto which he has beenslung.
Eschewing the offer of abetter life in the West from one of the American soldiers (Craig in a verybrief role) he heads back to Budapest and his family, on the way encountering avariety of reactions that range from misunderstanding to animosity.
In the process Koltaistresses how the Holocaust did not end with the liberation of the camps andthat the abyss separating survivors from everyone else is ultimately unbridgeable.
There is no point inexpecting Fateless to solve the problems that film-makers face when itcomes to capturing the Holocaust on celluloid. The sense that no movie set canduplicate the awfulness of the real event, nor any actor completely disappear intoany of the real-life participants' characters, still prevails here.
The banal first half hour ishesitantly directed, and while it does cue up Gyorgy's gradual descent into theinferno, it lacks impact in itself.
Similarly Gyorgy's trek fromBuchenwald to Budapest, including an inconclusive scene en route amid the ruinsof Dresden, is useful as a transitional device but not particularly eloquent inits own right.
Fateless only really grabs its audience from when Gyorgy istaken off the bus without reason. From that point on, each ensuing episodefades into black before the next one arrives, piling up a series of unbearablemoments of horror.
Such scenes areunsentimentally observed, filling the audience with dismay and culminating inGyorgy's broken body being thrown onto a pile of other corpses whosedestination is not in doubt.
Marcell Nagy very much takescentre stage in the lead and proves a perfect choice for the part. We watch ashis youthful, handsome features are worn away gradually by hunger, thirst, dirtand pain while his ever larger eyes set deep in his shrinking, emaciated face,try to take in and comprehend the incomprehensible around him.
Predictably enough, givenKoltai's past career, Fateless looks visually stunning, moving from adiscoloured, almost sepia palette in its early stages through an increasinglymonochromatic black and white, then back to sepia.
Lighting of the interiorscenes is astounding and there is no better realisation of that peculiar momentof grace which exists even in the heart of darkness than the image of one briefsunset over the infernal camps.
Ennio Morricone's scorepulls a maudlin blanket over an otherwise respectful, restrained approach.
Prod cos: Magic Media Inc, EuroArts, Renegade Films, HungarianMinistry of Cultural Heritage, Hungarian Motion Picture Foundation, MDR, MDM,MFG, Ingenious Films, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk
Int'l sales: TBA, c/o MarkHorowitz, (1) 310 88 093 72
Exec prods: Laszlo Vincze, BerndHellthaler, Robert Buckler
Prod: Andras Hamori, Peter Barbalics,Ildiko Kemeny, Jonathan Olsberg
Scr: Imre Kertesz, based on hisnovel Sorstalansag
Cine: Gyula Pados
Ed: Hajnall Sello
Prod des: Tibor Lazar
Music: Ennio Morricone
Main cast: Marcell Nagy, AronDimeny, Andras M Kecskes, Joszef Gyabronka, Endre Harkanyi, Daniel Craig