×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Karlovy Vary Film Review: ‘The Notebook’

Hungarian helmer Janos Szasz's drama is a distinctively photographed, chillingly atmospheric tale of wartime horrors.

With:
Laszlo Gyemant, Andras Gyemant, Piroska Molnar, Ulrich Thomsen, Ulrich Matthes, Gyongyver Bognar, Orsolya Toth. (Hungarian, German dialogue)

Distinctively photographed and chillingly atmospheric, Hungarian helmer Janos Szasz’s The Notebook follows inseparable teen twins dispatched to the countryside by their parents during WWII; they survive by assiduously exterminating all human sentiment within themselves. While the accumulation of horrors they experience — and their resulting depravity — won’t win the disturbing pic any awards for congeniality, it nabbed the top prize at Karlovy Vary, as well as a nod from the Europa Cinemas label jury, which supports theatrical exhibition in Europe. Additional fest travel is a given and modest arthouse play possible in other territories.

Opening in 1944 amid quiet, civilized surroundings that are never seen again, the action unfolds in short, increasingly nightmarish vignettes. Everything is filtered through the eyes of the 13-year-old brothers (Laszlo Gyemant, Andras Gyemant), who narrate in flat, precise and objective-sounding tones.

Left with their cruel grandmother (Piroska Molnar), who starves, beats and otherwise abuses them, the formerly pampered boys at first find it difficult to adjust to their new surroundings. But as they inscribe their thoughts and experiences in the notebook given them by their father (Ulrich Matthes), they realize the only way to cope with the inhumane world of adults and war into which they have been thrust is to become completely unfeeling. Thus, they devise a plan to train their bodies and minds so that they can free themselves from hunger, pain and emotion in order to endure future hardships.

Since thinking of their mother (Gyongyver Bognar) makes the boys feel sad, they banish all thoughts of her, even burning her letters and photos. To better withstand the blows of outsiders, they practice putting mind over matter as they inflict grievous bodily harm on one another. Hunger? No problem. The neighbor’s harelipped daughter (Orsolya Toth) teaches them how to lie, blackmail and steal. Eventually, they become completely desensitized to the value of human life, and are able to commit murder without any scruples.

“The Notebook” marks natural material for veteran stage and screen helmer Szasz, celebrated for grim, boldly expressive pics such as “Woyzech,” “The Witman Boys” and “Diary of an Opium Eater.” Despite the difficulty of rendering the singular tone of Agota Kristof’s literary prizewinner, Szasz and co-scripter Andras Szeker manage to capture its essence, creating a universally understandable parable about the inhumanity catalyzed by war and the division of postwar Europe.

Like the book, the film strives for a grim (or Grimm) fairy-tale tone; in search of a more universal feel, it also deliberately avoids mentioning specific place names and nationalities. The characters, too, are primal, referred to simply as “Mother,” “Father,” “Grandmother,” “the Officer,” “Harelip,” etc. Although the boys have names in the novel, the film credits refer to them as “One” and “Other.”

Thesping honors go to the riveting Piroska Molnar as the boys’ terrifying witch of a granny. Toth also adds to her range, while Danish thesp Ulrich Thomsen, sporting an uncomfortable-looking leather neck brace, suggests all manner of perversities as a German camp commandant. Unfortunately, the glowering, non-pro Gyemant twins, who seem to have only one facial expression (and oddly anachronistic haircuts), continually break the spell woven by the other performers.

Evocative lensing by Christian Berger (“The White Ribbon”) and inventive production/sound design suggest violent undercurrents that resonates in the viewers’ imagination, and clever animation makes the eponymous notebook a cinematic synecdoche. “The Notebook” is the first release supported by the rebooted Hungarian National Film Fund.

Karlovy Vary Film Review: 'The Notebook'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 3, 2013. Running time: 109 MIN. Original title: "A nagy fuzet"

Production: (Hungary-Germany-Austria-France) A Hunnia Filmstudio, Intuit Pictures production in co-production with Amour Fou, Dolce Vita Films, with the support of Magyar Filmalap, MDM, MBB, Media, Eurimages, Wiener Filmfund, CNC, DFFF, FISA. (International sales: Beta Cinema, Munich.) Produced by Sandor Soth, Pal Sandor. Executive producers, Albert Kitzler, Gyorgy Such, Janos Szasz. Co-producers, Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu, Bady Minck, Marc Irmer.

Crew: Directed by Janos Szasz. Screenplay, Andras Szeker, Szasz, adapted from the novel “The Notebook” by Agota Kristof. Camera (color), Christian Berger; editor, Szilvia Ruszev; music, Johan Johannson; set designer, Istvan Galambos; costume designer, Janos Breckl; sound (Dolby Digital), Istvan Sipos, Manuel Laval, Matthias Schwab.

With: Laszlo Gyemant, Andras Gyemant, Piroska Molnar, Ulrich Thomsen, Ulrich Matthes, Gyongyver Bognar, Orsolya Toth. (Hungarian, German dialogue)

More Film

  • Unicorn Store Trailer

    Watch the First Trailer for Brie Larson's Directorial Debut, 'Unicorn Store'

    Brie Larson is seeking salvation from Samuel L. Jackson in Neflix’s first trailer for her directorial debut, the offbeat comedy-drama “Unicorn Store.” Larson is portraying a lonely 20-something dreamer who’s been kicked out of art school. She’s forced to move back home with her parents and take a temp job at a PR agency. But [...]

  • Patti Rockenwagner

    Chief Brand Officer Patti Röckenwagner Leaves STX Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Patti Röckenwagner is leaving STX Entertainment where she has served as the company’s chief brand officer. She announced her departure in a memo to staff, in which she said she was departing for “another opportunity.” The exit is an amicable one. Röckenwagner joined STX in 2016 as its chief communications officer before being promoted to [...]

  • Gabrielle Union

    10 Things We Learned at Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit

    Variety’s 2019 Entertainment Marketing Summit, which brought top execs to Hollywood’s NeueHouse on Thursday, covered considerable ground. From cutting through the noise in an oversaturated media landscape to welcoming exciting technology like virtual reality, industry veterans offered insight into what to expect from the marketing world in coming years. Here are 10 things we learned [...]

  • Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces On

    Orange Studio, OCS Join Forces on Flurry of High-Profile Series

    Following “The Name of the Rose”(pictured) and “Devils,” France’s Orange has unveiled four internationally-driven series projects as part of its commitment to step into premium original shows with its film/TV division Orange Studio and pay TV group OCS both of board. Currently in development, the social western “Cheyenne & Lola,” the dance-filled workplace drama “The [...]

  • 'This Isn’t Spinal Tap': Dishing the

    'This Isn't Spinal Tap': Dishing the Dirt on Motley Crue's Surprisingly Dark Biopic

    The new, eagerly awaited Motley Crue biopic, based on Neil Strauss’ best-selling 2001 book, “The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band,” premieres today on Netflix after a seemingly endless 13 years in development hell. Those anticipating “a fun ‘80s music movie,” as Crue bassist Nikki Sixx puts it, will inevitably be stunned [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: Jordan Peele's 'Us' Nabs $7.4 Million on Thursday Night

    Jordan Peele’s horror-thriller “Us” opened huge with $7.4 million on Thursday night in North America. The figure easily topped Thursday preview numbers for “The Nun” at $5.4 million and “A Quiet Place” at $4.3 million and nearly matched “Halloween” at $7.7 million. Projections for Universal’s “Us,” Peele’s much-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s “Get Out,” have been in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content