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FILMMAKING AND POLITICS: IN SEARCH OF THE SUN IN OUR SOUL

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„Critiques and experts have long contended that art and politics do not bode well together. Moviemaking as a craft should not extensively meddle in politics. It is also not the job of a movie director to judge or shape history. We should perhaps leave that to historians and statesmen.” This is the essence of Adam Topolansky’s newest article that addresses the aftermath of the highly acclaimed motion picture Son of Saul.

I think it’s fair to say,” said leading actor Géza Röhrig, “that we haven’t learned anything from history. The cruelty exhibited at the time of the Holocaust exists today against the Kurds and elsewhere. You have a feeling of insecurity about tomorrow. There’s a level of chaos because global powers do not agree on the most minimal consensus.”[1]

First of all, it should be reiterated that the highly acclaimed movie, the Son of Saul is the product of excellent filmmaking! The concept of using the leading character as a camcorder to penetrate the inner core of the tragedy of the Holocaust is superb motion picture craftsmanship indeed! The film deserves the highest honors for camera work, directing and acting as well!

But there is a grim aspect of this movie in its aftermath, which is both the fault of naysayers and some of the film’s creators. The Golden Globe winning movie, which received a lot of praise, soon stirred up a controversy after its release when viewers and analysts began questioning the motive behind creating yet another Holocaust movie. Sceptics commented that this was the umptienth time that filmmakers used the tragedy of the Holocaust to catapult their careers and piggybacked their way to stardom on the back of this topic. Of course, there is some truth to this claim, since there were other complex tragedies throughout European history, yet remarkably few movies have been made out of those events. On the other hand, the liberal establishment has been playing politics once again exploiting this horrific historical tragedy to their political benefit.

Initially, director László Nemes Jeles brushed off the sporadic attacks by some extremists and hard-liners and the media trying to blow these out of proportion saying: „it resembles a situation whereas you cut out all the coughing noise during a concert, paste them together and play only a coughing concert instead of the music.” Later on, however, he followed up with some comments that raised many eyebrows. He went as far as criticizing Germany, Austria and Hungary (entire nations) and even some political personalities to express his sentiments and value judgements.

Despite some early efforts to diffuse this altercation, the political agitators censoring free thought and expression in Hungary instinctively resorted to their old playbook once again, citing anti-semitism. It is, of course, the nastiest and cheapest insinuation in modern day politics! However, these cynics have learned that they just cannot do wrong if they pull out the good ole’ anti-semitism card. No matter how stale and untrue it is, if all else fails (and it often does), they can still use it to their advantage.

To stamp out this vendetta on both sides, Géza Röhrig recently reacted to this bickering (paraphrased in the following): „I am totally disenchanted with cynical people playing politics and attempting to pit Hungarians against Jews in this country! There is nothing I abhor more than this standoff.” What Röhrig was presumably saying is that ethnicity and race should never be deployed for political benefit. In fact, societies should be taught that jockeying for position, locking horns and driving a wedge between ethnic groups or races is a mean-spirited endeavor altogether. And this concerns both sides. Every time political agitators scream anti-semitism, they just add fuel to the fire. The same goes for simpletons and derelicts who deny the Holocaust and throw their usual anti-semitic tantrums.

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Critiques and experts have long contended that art and politics do not bode well together. Moviemaking as an art form should not extensively meddle in politics. It is also not the job of a movie director to judge or shape history. We should leave that to historians and statesmen.

However, when things quiet down, it may be time to remind historians, screenwriters and filmmakers in Hungary to begin developing film projects about the Délvidék massacre of Hungarians by the Serbian partisans, the Pozsonyligetfalu massacre of fine Hungarian cadets by the Slovaks, the tragic fate of the Second Hungarian Army that was annihilated in the Soviet Union, the deportations of innocent Hungarians to Soviet forced labor camps, the story of Recsk, the crimes of communism, as well as the terror of the ÁVH (internal state security police) or some other equally tragic chapter of Hungarian history. Lessons learned: noone’s tragedy should transcend another person’s calamity in human history!

Our suffering, our pain and our human tragedies, just like our joyful moments, are universal. These incidents (tragic or joyous) should be shared and remembered by all, but never to the detriment of another human being’s sensitivity. No tragedy or festivity should receive exclusivity (singularity) over another. In this process, we should therefore seek to ameliorate the sunny side of our soul. It is time for us to root for Son of Saul to do well at the 88th Annual Academy Awards (Oscars) on February 28, so we should halt any second-guessing about the motive behind creating this movie or the imprint that it may leave in our hearts and souls. There is a time to celebrate and a time to mourn. Whichever we choose to do, let’s aim to unite rather than divide.

Adam Topolansky

 


[1] The Guardian, May 19, 2015