Fateless

Opens at Crest, Fri., April 14. Not rated. 140 minutes.

You've seen this Holocaust tale before, only in a different language. Or several of them. Hungary's first big-budget, post–Cold War effort to grapple with the Holocaust is just another addition to that weighty canon—handsome, high in serious purpose, practically leather-bound with gilt-edged pages, something to be admired on the shelf. Based on the more-or-less autobiographical novel by Nobel laureate Imre Kertész, its chief innovations are (a) being in Hungarian, and (b) having subtitles so terribly placed and colored that the young protagonist's voice-over musings are almost entirely illegible. Not that you can't pretty much imagine what he's saying.

Gyuri (Marcell Nagy) is separated from his haute bourgeois Budapest family (his parents are divorced), then rounded up by his country's collaborationist cops. Auschwitz soon follows, then Buchenwald, as the 14-year-old endures the full Nazi tour of horror. In the film's best scene, inmates are made to stand at attention for what seems a full day, swaying like grass with exhaustion. Death can come at random, budding-existentialist Gyuri realizes, independent of virtue or character—although the movie is surprisingly delicate about the showers and bullets to the back of the skull. Any drama as to the outcome of Fateless is moot, since Gyuri (or his older self) is narrating, and this ain't Sunset Boulevard.

However heartfelt and essentially true Kertész's story may be, we don't need more layers of dull historical paint on a horrific legacy we already know from Schindler's List, The Pianist, or The Gray Zone. Notable among recent Holocaust movies, the Czech Divided We Fall dared to treat its story almost as sex farce. It was still serious at its core, but also lively and occasionally comic. I'd recommend renting that, or Europa, Europa, before adding Fateless to your Netflix queue—by which time the subtitles may've been fixed.

 
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