Hungarian director János Szász’s film, The Notebook, is about World War II, but the only fighting in it isn’t between soldiers—it’s between twin boys whose parents decide to secret them away to their grandmother’s house in a remote part of Hungary until the war’s end. The boys are inseparable—the film opens with the sound of their breathing as they sleep side by side—and until they cross their grandmother’s threshold, wrapped in a cocoon of their parents’ love.
As they suffer their grandmother’s abuse and forced labor, the boys decide to harden their bodies and minds against hunger, pain, and loss, recording everything meticulously in a notebook from their father. The notebook’s images—including drawings, flattened insects, perfect adolescent script and photographs—are among the richest and most imaginative in an already light-soaked, almost fantastical film.
Thanks to their training and to each other, the boys are able to wait out, and witness, the war (including the late deportation of Hungary’s Jews). Although a few plot points aren’t quite resolved, the boys’ vigil, as well as their effort to steel themselves against the world while remaining human, are more than enough to provide the film‘s drama.
August 25, 2014