Beginning and ending at a little Hungarian railway station immediately following the end of World War II in Europe, "1945" is a rattling ghost-train ride through a hamlet of haunted memories.
Although it's set around a mid-August wedding where everyone in the small town is invited to attend, the atmosphere steadily becomes chillier and more sparse. The pretty backwater didn't suffer from combat or deprivation. The drugstore owned by István, the prosperous town clerk (Péter Rudolf), is fully stocked, and the sausages and brandy for his son's marriage are abundant.
But something crucial is missing. For 91 minutes, writer/director Ferenc Török keeps viewers in suspense over what happens next. He has made a film that can find awful implications everywhere, even in an old locomotive's puffs of dark smoke.
The railway stationmaster, the town's officials, parish priest and most of the residents are rattled by the arrival of two somber Jews on the afternoon train. The film's immaculate black-and-white photography gives it a period atmosphere while making the strangers' coal-dark clothing look especially funereal.
The town's main fear is that they are agents for a man named Pollack, a local property owner who was denounced by his neighbors and imprisoned in a concentration camp. Many villagers were decreed the new owners of his multiple homes by the wartime government.
Now the Germans have surrendered, and the Russians are running their own occupation. After living in Pollack's buildings, townsfolk resent any obligation to give them back. The most-repeated phrases in the film are "God bless you" and "It's legal!"
The film develops a sense of doom approaching at a ticking-clock beat. A sense of irrevocable grief hits some of the townspeople, while others wrap Pollack's good silverware in sheets and hide it. István, a persuasive glad-hander, tries to build a shared cause of holding onto the villagers' ill-gotten gains in the warmest collaborative terms.
A sense of conceited selfishness runs across families and generations. The town drunk seems to be the most spiritually sensitive of all. When he tries to confess his complicity in the scheme that sent Pollack to his fate, the priest gives him a trivial forgiveness and quickly sends him on his way. The cleric is more upset by his parishioner bringing up those crimes than the misdeeds themselves.
The residents maintain a low profile. Even the young bride-to-be, finding that her former lover has returned from service with the Russian military, meets him in private before visiting the church. Rather than dressing for the wedding, István's wife drugs herself with ether-soaked handkerchiefs and lies in bed.
Reflecting on relationships of long ago, István declares "the past is gone." But with the arrival of the mysterious visitors, Török proves that it stubbornly remains, holding the living in its cold hands, sometimes grasping at the throat.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186
★★★ out of 4 stars
Unrated: Mature themes. In Hungarian and Russian.