THOSE WHO REMAINED (Akik maradtak)

(director/writer: Barnabas Toth; screenwriters: Klára Muhi/based on a novel by Zsuzsa F. Varkonyi; cinematographer: Gabor Marosi; editor: Agnes Mogor; music: Laszlo Pirisi; cast: Karoly Hajduk (Dr. Aládar “Aldó” Kőrner), Abigel Szoke (Klara), Mari Nagy (Olgi), Katalin Simko (Erzsi), Barnabas Horkay (Pepe), Andor Lukáts (Seilmann Pista), Eszter Balla (Ilona), Veronika Varga (Vidákné); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Monika Mecs; Menemsha Films; 2019-Hungary-in Hungarian with English subtitles)

“Observant and tender lyrical coming-of-age post-Holocaust film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It was shown at the Telluride Film Festival.

This observant and tender lyrical coming-of-age post-Holocaust film is based on the 2004 novel by Zsuzsa F. Varkonyi. It’s smartly written and directed by the France-born but Hungarian-based filmmaker Barnabas Toth (“Camembert Rose”) and is co-written by him and Klára Muhi. It’s set in 1953 in Budapest, and is one of the few Holocaust films that’s about those who returned from the death camps and tried healing through love. In this case, the subjects face an uncertain future after WWII because of the intolerant Soviet Communist regime in place in their country.

The 40-something loner Dr. Aladár Körner (Karoly Hajduk) survived being in a concentration camp, where his wife and two sons died. He now hopes to recover from the trauma by not revealing his emotions in public and to live a quiet normal life in his former Budapest hometown by serving as a dedicated gynecologist. His life is refreshed by meeting at the hospital one day the feisty scornful hater of the world, the 16-year old Klára (Abigel Szoke), who comes for a check-up. She has returned to Budapest from an Israelite Community Orphanage, as her parents disappeared during WWII. The needy motor-mouth shares an apartment with her great-aunt (Mari Nagy) but desperately needs the paternal warmth the doctor provides and moves in with him. The older man and younger girl are on the same wavelengths but are complete opposites, yet can relate because they share a similar tragic fate that allows them to easily bond. With Aladár, called Aldo, as the father figure and Klára as someone who could be his daughter, the two fragile figures try to get their life back together by supporting each other. The doctor keeps things Platonic, even as the girl leaves her assigned sleeping space on the couch and crawls into bed with him.

The unspoken truths of their lives are brought to fruition in modest doses by trying not to dwell too much in the past (though at times showing flashbacks of the past horrors to give you some taste of what hardships they experienced). Despite their bad memories of the past they are still trying to remember their loved ones who did not return. The film should be applauded for sending a positive message about those surviving Holocaust victims who are trying to see humanity in the light and not in its darkest moments, even though there are again dark clouds all around them.

László Pirisi’s soft-toned score offers a fitting background music for the delicate tale. It’s the kind of satisfying Holocaust film that maybe even a typical mainstream audience can enjoy for its basic decency while also getting a mild history lesson.