When Peter returns home on a 24-hour leave, his mother persuades him to desert, and when Hungarian soldiers come looking for him, she hides him. But the greater danger proves to come from the victorious Russian troops, who invade the farm to loot everything they can carry away, while insisting, “We take only what’s necessary.”
Scenes in which the Russians behead chickens and geese before carting them off, and kill the farm dog, are likely to upset some audiences. When two soldiers return later with rape in mind, Peter takes his service revolver and kills one and wounds the other, who escapes.
An investigation takes place, led by a Russian officer who sadistically delights in tormenting the terrified peasants. He himself executes the wounded soldier, and forces Peter and his father to confess to the two killings in order to save themselves.
Needless to say, all ends badly. In another scene, the teenage girls are gang-raped in a muddy field by Russian soldiers, though their officers later solemnly assert that “soldiers of the liberating Red army never rape defenseless women.” Peter tries to escape and is shot in the back; near death, he is thrown into an old wooden bathtub to face trial, along with both his parents.
Even at the height of the Cold War, it’s hard to imagine a Hollywood film that would have dared depict Russians as the beasts they are shown to be in Sara’s film. The director’s anger is palpable, but he tends to overstate his case, and the result is an at times heavy-handed and extremely downbeat drama.
Performances are all excellent, with Kati Lazar as the stoic wife deservedly winning the best actress nod from the Hungarian Film Week’s official jury. Film has a grainy look, suggesting it’s been blown up to 35 mm from 16 mm.
Pic ends with the revelation that in 1992 a Russian military court decreed that Istvan Pasztor, his wife and son were guilty of “performing terrorist crimes against the Red army,” but that their daughters, two of whom died in Russian camps, were, after all, innocent.