For those looking for a quietly beautiful, thoughtful film to sink their teeth into, you should pay attention to director Barnabás Tóth’s newest feature, “Those Who Remained.”
Set in the late 1940s/early ‘50s in a post-WWII Hungary, the film introduces our protagonists: 42-year old Aldo (Károly Hajduk), a quiet, sensitive man who works as a gynecologist, and 16-year old Klára (Abigél Szõke), a sweet, studious, talkative young woman who begrudgingly lives with her great-aunt Olgi (Mari Nagy).
Both Aldo and Klára have lost their families to the Holocaust (though Klára naively refuses to believe that her parents are not coming back at some point). After a doctor’s appointment with Aldo, the unlikely friendship forms between the childless father and parentless daughter, prompting Olgi to work out a foster-care situation to ensure her niece’s happiness.
With the ever-looming fear of a Communist regime over their heads and the disapproving looks of neighbors who don’t understand the dynamics of their relationship, the two manage to carve out some happiness in recreating their family. The story is logistically a slice of life, piecing together fragments of their lives as Klára grows up, but the heart of the film offers so much more.
The Holocaust is never directly spoken of, yet still harshly present, having an effect on everyone’s lives. Even the way that the characters react to its consequences is fascinating. When Aldo decides to tell Klára about his deceased family, he does it by prompting her in a letter to look through a photo album, but tells her to put the album away before he returns to the apartment, as he is unable to even look at the album himself. In a fairly quiet film, where no one speaks their pain out loud, that pain is deafening.
Hajduk and Szõke are brilliantly endearing together, and even without Tóth’s articulate weaving of the world around them, are worth the watch by themselves. This is a true gem of a film.
“Those Who Remained” is part of the lineup for this year’s Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival, which will virtually premiere a new film twice a week throughout the month of July. Check out the website (www.hbgjff.com) for more information and to register for your all-access festival pass.