Friday, September 5, 2014


The Notebook (A nagy füzet)

The Notebook Official Site There are numerous films that tell compelling stories about civilians' horrific suffering and the war's brutality during World War II. But the director János Szász's apathetic "The Notebook" (A nagy füzet | Hungary 2013 | in Hungarian | 110 min.) is not one of them. The film makes you feel like a voyeur who peeks into two emotionless twin brothers' exotic but hush rural life after the war forced them to leave their comfortable city home. However, the film always keeps you at arm's length from the twins and people around them so that in the end, you still don't know who these people are and why these one-dimensional characters behave in their own (often bizarre) ways. You only get to see what they have done, which is hardly anything good.

The film begins by telling us that the two preppy unnamed teenage twin boys (László Gyémánt and András Gyémánt) are inseparable. To make this point, in one scene, their father clips the nail for one boy in bed (how touching that is for a thirteen-year-old boy, but really?), the other boy lies in the same bed inches away in order to be in the same picture. (Why?) When the city becomes increasingly dangerous toward the end of World War II, their parents send the boys to the safer countryside to live with their grandmother (Piroska Molnár), who has never met the boys before because the twin's mother (Gyöngyvér Bognár) has not spoken a word to her for twenty years. (Why?)

Before the boys are dumped to their abusive and alcoholic grandmother who is called a witch by the villagers, their father (Ulrich Matthes) gives the boys a blank notebook and asks them to document everything about their experience in the countryside.

Surviving on limited resources and without supervision, the two straight-faced boys become more apathetic, violent, cruel, and even sadistic. They believe that's the only way they can endure the hardship and stay together. (Why?) They faithfully record the process of removing any sentiment from themselves in that carefully crafted notebook.

The Notebook Official Site

Based on Hungarian writer Ágota Kristóf's French-language novel "Le Grand Cahier," perhaps the director János Szász wants to assemble a collage of images to illustrate how difficult life can be during the war. But like the fractured notebook the two boys clumsily put together, the film only takes snapshots of the boys' lives and never gets any deeper than being a passing onlooker. We see each incident in the film as if we witness a traffic accident on a highway when we drive by—we can't help but to look at the aftermath, we may speculate about the cause of the accident, but we never seem to know the truth, then we move on and forget about it after we pass it.

How lucky are the boys for not being Jew! All they have to deal with are their cruel grandmother and inconveniences such as sexual advances from a slutty church girl and from a friendly German officer (Ulrich Thomsen), when they are not playing the torturer to each other. If this is how bad World War II could get, the film is an insult to the millions of people who suffered and died during the war.

After the film was submitted as the Hungry's entry for the Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, it's perplexing how it made to the final short list of nine films to be nominated. It's probably because the screeners didn't have time to watch films from other countries and couldn't resist the twin brothers' blank stares, just like the German officer in the film.

"The Notebook," a Sony Pictures Classics release, opens on Friday, September 5, 2014 in San Francisco Bay Area.

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