Sunday, February 25, 2007


Goran Paskaljevic, Special Treatment (1980)

An old man paces a street filled with vice repeating, “lottery, lottery.” There are men sitting idly by drinking. A woman stares at a glass of wine with hungry eyes. A prostitute turns the heads of men and refuses the old man saying, “no more for lottery tickets.” Then, suddenly, the woman staring at the wine grabs the glass, quickly emptying it. She rises from the table and steps onto the other, foggy side of the street. There is a cut and we see a train speeding toward her. Just before impact – the lights go up and we become aware that this was all an elaborate staging, rehearsed by “ex-alcoholics” who will go on a trip with their doctor, where their will-power will be tested as they tour a brewery, and ultimately perform to give a testimony to the evils and loss of freedom, much like flinging oneself in front of a train, that stem from alcoholism. This initial scene may perplex us at first, but it becomes increasingly apparent throughout the course of the film that it may be commenting on the nature of performance and hinting that things may not be as they appear on the surface.

I was immediately struck with an eerie feeling while watching the initial staging and after it was revealed that it was all just a rehearsal for a planned performance, I was further perplexed by the fact that it all appeared too real to be staged – the lighting conditions and effects could have never been reproduced as shown in the sequence, on a stage. This effect made me a little more cynical throughout the viewing of the film, always looking for the hidden meaning, not that it was particularly difficult to find in many cases.

The figure of the doctor is immediately set up as a dictator – what he says goes for the recovering alcoholics as he convinces them that the human will is what will set them free. For example, on the way to their destination, the patients are singing up beat, but common, saloon songs when he signals them to be silent. The doctor then turns on a tape and we begin to hear Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” – music that is monumental and sublime, and, as pointed out in class, was composed by the official composer of the Nazis, a fact that subtly comments on his actions enforcing control and lack of choice. The doctor has a typical dictator’s mindset that people do not make the best choices for themselves on their own and must be both allowed to take control of their destinies and to be made to do certain things, “for their own good.” Shortly after the music begins, the doctor states that it is snack time and that everyone gets an apple because “apples are therapeutic.”

Also believed to be therapeutic is the “good example” the doctor shows by ordering beer during a stop while all of the patients drink mineral water, acknowledging that they have no will-power and that they cannot stop themselves after one beer, only to spill it out before leaving, without taking a single sip. What the patients do not see is the hypocrisy of the doctor who goes inside with his son to the restroom, only to order and consume an entire beer before returning to the table outside. Politically, this sends the message that there is a great deal of show and propaganda on the part of the regime, yet corruption from within.

Also problematic is that the film does not seem to fully endorse one particular ideology. In some instances, the alcoholics are portrayed as more alive and free when they are drunk than when they are following the strict orders of what is essentially a corrupt dictator. I found the scene of the old man sneaking out to the van and injecting apples with vodka to be liberating as he passes them around as a gesture of rebellion and the power of personal choice (not that the others knew what they were choosing until they took the first bite, but none of them stopped eating). It is when they are drunk that they perceive themselves as free, like birds, repeatedly used as a symbol of freedom and beauty throughout the film. It is also when they are able to conquer their fears, just as the stuttering actor is able to finally recite his lines clearly. But, there is a downside to this freedom, the actor, after all does not stutter, but always forgets some of his lines and fear of the doctor and returning to order sets in soon after the period of freedom. Take, for example, the exercise scene after the apple sharing episode – the patients desperately attempt to discipline themselves for show because they fear the doctor finding out about their lapses in will-power.

In the end, even after the rebellion of the alcoholics makes a mockery out of the doctor’s speech, he continues to relentlessly strive for the never-quite-attainable ideal. On their way back home, the doctor states, “I trusted you and you betrayed me, but I’ll cure you. I’ll make you decent citizens if it kills me.” Here is another irony, the doctor may feel betrayed by his patients but he betrayed them all along after they (some more than others) trusted him and his unconventional treatment to the point that they temporarily gave up their own wills in order to gain the prestigious will-power.

In the final scene, the camera focuses on a flock of birds in the sky as the son of the doctor looks up in awe of them and we may remember an earlier discussion on birds between father and son when the doctor tells his boy that God made everything beautiful. “Even the birds?” the son asks and his father says yes. The son then comments on how the doctor taught him that humans evolved from monkeys as if to say that human kind is not inherently beautiful. Keeping this earlier scene in mind, while this particular way of ending the film could suggest several things, including a symbolic reference to the son as the next generation that will grow up to be just as corrupt as his father’s, to me, the end seemed to say: “Birds are beautiful and free. Humans will never achieve the same freedom because their nature is not beautiful.” This, I think, adds to the idea that even though the doctor is attempting to make his patients free, his methods cater to the dark side of mankind and, because of his own corruption, the beautiful end he is attempting to achieve will never be possible.

“Yugoslavian Stagecoach” (1939) – Hollywood Ending


Slobodan Sijan, Who is Singing Over There? (1980)

Slobodan Sijan’s Who is Singing Over There? (1980) has been described as the “Yugoslavian Stagecoach” often and it is not difficult to see why. Both films are about a journey; both feature an unorthodox and highly unlikely and problematic cast of characters forced to acquaint themselves with one another along the way; both have their stereotypes and archetypal, somewhat political characters, easily recognizable to the audience of their time and country of origin. However, there is one major difference between Who is Singing Over There? and Stagecoach: the Hollywood ending.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that Who is Singing Over There? is structured around the bombing of Belgrade on April 7, 1941, when the Nazis begin war with Yugoslavia. From the first scene of the film, we know that the events that are about to unfold occur just one day before this historical event. Tensions are intensified as we subconsciously (at least if we know the particular history) realize that the bus is on a journey without an end; a journey marked for disaster. In contrast, there is not as much of an aura of doom involved in Stagecoach as the passengers make their way in the tiny stagecoach, though they encounter danger along the way.

There is a sense of tension and danger lurking beneath the surface of things despite bureaucracy and in spite of Yugoslavia’s official slogan: “Brotherhood and Unity” as the characters of Who is Singing Over There? are constantly divided in their attitudes toward one another. For example, there is the old war veteran who bitterly reminds the others about what he has been through, serving his country; the Germanophile, obsessed with the progress in German medicine; the young, apparently clueless married couple who defy the ideas of structure and shame as they have sex in the woods with all the others voyeuristically looking on; the kooky son of the bus owner, excited by animals and portrayed as simple-minded, yet ultimately heroic in his willingness to join the resistance army against the Nazis; the aspiring opera singer trying to make it to his audition on time; the sickly older man; the overly authoritative and monopolistic owner of the bus who is constantly checking passengers for tickets and thinking up schemes, such as selling the only food available during the lunch break, to make a greater profit; and the two Roma musicians who are both a part of the group and also strangely apart from it, serving the function of a chorus throughout the film.

Around every corner is an absurd delay, which annoys the passengers but also seems to add to the tension as we perhaps hope that they will arrive after the bombing has already taken place, or even that they will arrive sooner and somehow be warned. It is as if their fate is to arrive just in time to be bombed as tensions amongst themselves reach a boiling point and the passengers begin to beat the two Roma, accusing them of stealing the old war vet’s wallet. There is an irony in this series of events: the country is bombed by the Nazis, despite its attempts to remain neutral in WWII, and just before, inside the bus, the passengers become enemies to one another, mirroring the fascism of the Nazis in their brutal treatment and stereotyping of the Roma. Even the sickly old man, who complains to a priest the group encounters along the way that nobody treats him with Christian kindness as a sick man, but avoids him because if his illnesses, is instrumental in the beating.

Despite the ways they are persecuted by the other characters of the film, however, I found the Roma to be particularly intriguing as they directly addressed me, singing their prophetic chorus about what was soon to happen. The beat of the music was lighthearted and optimistic even though they were singing of disaster, providing an interesting disjunction between music and lyrics and again, reinforcing the feel that the passengers are going through this journey blindly, oblivious to what will happen when they reach their destination, in spite of the warnings the lyrics provide along the way.

After the bombing, it is significant that the only characters who emerge from the rubble, still singing, are the Roma. Their final lyrics talk about the Nazis goal “to destroy humanity and make a new one.” This scene also seems highly ironic, and may be commenting on the fact that the Nazis will never succeed, because the Roma/Gypsies were among the first to be exterminated by the Nazis, yet within this film, were the only survivors of the bombing in sight. Even as it is somewhat of a triumph to behold the Roma still standing, the end scene is also true to the devastation the Nazis imparted on mankind, particularly specific, non-Aryan groups. The Roma sing, as the film ends, “The crazy Fascist beasts demolish all that was. I wish, mother, that I had but dreamt it all” (a line repeated at the end of every verse as the journey progresses). Though there is some satisfaction in feeling as if there is hope for humanity, symbolized by the survival of the Roma, there is certainly no hint of the Hollywood ending present in their looks of despair and wishes that this horror were all just a dream.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Dusan Makavejev, WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), has for me, from an ideological standpoint, been one of the most difficult films to understand. Perhaps this is because many of the allusions are lost on me; perhaps it is due to an incomplete understanding of what Makavejev is, through Wilhelm Reich, is really arguing for with respect to sexual and political liberty. Whatever the cause, just when I found myself drawing one particular conclusion or another as I viewed the film, a new image was placed before me that complicated my claim. Perhaps this is because, as Gary Morris states, “Reich was, like Makavejev, an unapologetic liberationist, disgusted by both communism’s hatred of creativity and capitalism’s idolatry of consumerism.” Makavejev never gives any definite conclusions, leaving it up to us to interpret the significance of specific juxtapositions.

In many scenes, it seems that the phallus is used as a stand-in idol, paralleled with consumer culture, that dictates political freedom or repression. I say this because imagery pertaining to ejaculation appears not only as a comment on war, with Tuli Kupferberg cocking his machine gun as symbolic of it, but also as a comment on the site of his action – New York City. Is Makavejev drawing a parallel between the commercialism of the U.S and the sexual desperation that causes both an increasing commercialism to flourish as well as a need for war? This seems to be the conclusion we are asked to draw, that capitalism thrives on repression, both political and sexual, and that communism liberates people from such repression.

Nothing in this film is so simply stated, however, for just as soon as we think we have discovered the message behind images of Stalin and of American advertisement and consumer culture/excess juxtaposed with phallic imagery and war-crazed ejaculation, we face the ending of the film, where Milena has been beheaded after achieving “a perfect orgasm” with Vladimir Ilyich. She dies in achieving sexual liberation, yet states, “even now I am not ashamed of my Communist past.” What exactly are we to conclude from this statement? Is liberation (Communism) dangerous in that it requires man to give up “control”, thereby leading to destruction? (Milena had to be destroyed because she made Vladimir lose control). If this is the case, then are we also being asked to consider that though Communism can lead to a loss in perceived control as part of the greater liberalization process, it is still favored to the maddening repression that capitalism feeds off of? Clearly both systems are flawed. The best way for me to think about these problems further is to examine them in light of one comment made in Owen Hatherley’s “I Still Dream of Orgonon”: “Above all, WR is an internal debate within socialism itself, against its repressive proponents and for its original promises.” (Where “repressive proponents” may be alluded to in the Vladimir character and “original promises” in Milena.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Marta Meszaros, Adoption (1975)

In Marta Meszaros’s Adoption (1975), there is one sequence, more specifically one shot, which for me condenses the entire film and collapses the world of Kata. The scene comes late in the film, just before the final few moments when we see Kata sign adoption papers and walk off with her new-found child, full of hopes for and perhaps uncertainties about the future. It is a shot that thematically comments on more than just the situation at hand. It is a shot of Anna, presumably on her wedding day, alone in the corner, staring out toward us with her dark, haunting eyes. It is the perfect example of how dreams can collapse in an instant and it comments on the need for a woman to stand alone sometimes in order to (ironically) live a fuller life.

Meszaros is a director interested in relationships among women and the expectations and plights of ordinary women. She was no stranger to gender inequality, attending film school in Moscow because it was “not easy for a woman” to attend film school in Hungary. According to the interview conducted by Andrew James Horton, Meszaros began her career hated by Hungarian officials for directly confronting problems under Communism through her documentary on the lives of poor Hungarians. Meszaros herself commented on her early work by saying: “The officials hated my film because it was about life under Communism, showing how it really was. But it was the truth—I captured the ordinary lives of these people and their problems. I did it many times.”

There is something brutally honest in her work, as literature about her suggests, that is openly displayed in Adoption with its critique on social understandings of familial relationships and women’s ability to have control over their daily lives. As the film begins, an immediate sense of isolation is felt. There is only a loud buzzing of an alarm and a solitary female figure preparing for work. There is music, but no dialogue; Kata is alone, as are all the women in the factory, working together, yet each at their own isolated task. A few shots later, Kata’s pulsating heart is heard as she waits for her doctor to finish a medical exam; as she waits to hear whether or not her health is good enough to have a child at the difficult mothering age of 43. Once cleared the only source of difficulty for Kata is that the man she loves (Joska) is married and will not agree to let her have his child because the child would not have a father. As they continue to talk about the issue, Joska tells Kata that, “if it hadn’t been for you, I couldn’t have managed,” as he has recently been through some tough times with his family. To him, Kata is expected to be strong and a source of reassurance and security. In another scene, he runs to her for comfort, or perhaps to get away from pressures he faces at home. Yet, there is the sense that Kata is not supposed to expect the same support from him. He will not agree to let her have his child, even if she will raise the child alone, and he alone dictates when and where they will meet. It is almost as if Kata simply accepts this as her fate, not expecting equality in her love life and resigning herself to the fact that it is her lot to never experience being a mother until she becomes involved with the young Anna who blatantly points out the emotionally repressive aspects of the relationship. “This isn’t right. You meet when he wants to; when he’s got the time. You ought to leave him”, Anna tells Kata in a memorable scene of the two women bonding over drinks and denying the men glancing their way dances in favor of establishing a strong womanly bond where each is able to be herself and assert herself totally.

Anna gives Kata someone to live for; a taste of motherhood and responsibility for someone who loves her back. Moreover, Kata works to bring Anna to what she thinks will be her happiness in marriage. All does not end as a fairytale, however, on a positive note. This brings me back to the scene I opened my discussion with. It hits the viewer like a personal violent blow when a quarrel begins during Anna’s wedding celebration and she is shoved by her new husband into a corner as he angrily walks away from her. The fairytale has come true for her, and yet she is alone. The wedding celebration scene in general is full of drama and heightened emotion. The women depicted in it all seem to be lonely, dreaming of the fairytale and crying either tears of joy for Anna or of pity for their own conditions as women before the scene of Anna alone. Anna is still trapped, and perhaps the message here is that often women must stand alone to achieve what they most desire.

If Anna’s fate is read in the light of trading means of entrapment and is generally indicative of the larger fate of many women who search to fulfill themselves in relation to men, Kata’s final action seems somewhat problematic in that she seems to abandon Anna even as she finally realizes her dream of motherhood. Perhaps Meszaros’s motive is to show her audience that women must find their own paths, not that they must necessarily be alone or isolated, but that the relationships they establish must be balanced in dynamics of power and security in order for all involved to be most productive and emotionally stable. Even this observation is also somewhat problematic because Kata does not really find her own path, but she also does not rely on a man to dictate it for her either. Rather, in relation to Anna, she is able to realize that she will become a successful single mother. Yet Anna, the apparently strongest woman, perhaps the representative of a new generation of womanhood in her power to assert herself and to build a strong relationship with her would be husband while guiding Kata in her process of higher self-realization, is left in the most ambiguous and isolated position at the film’s close. Perhaps this is because women continue to struggle with gender issues or perhaps because Anna’s society would not be comfortable with her complete victory without submission to men since acknowledging such a reality would contribute to the film’s overall honesty and Meszaros’s dedication to commenting truthfully on the society she sees and experiences; examining dynamics of women’s lives. Much of this is speculation, but there is undoubtedly a “feminist” yet slight counter-feminist aesthetic at work here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Peter Bacso, The Witness (1969)

Before viewing Peter Bacso’s The Witness (1969) for the first time, I was skeptical as to how a film about Stalinist-era Hungary could be successfully made into a comedy that Hungarian audiences, which may have witnessed the harsh oppression first hand, would endorse. However, as I watched I was amazed by the success of the comic element despite the fact that there was nothing funny behind what was going on in terms of the reality that the comedy was commenting on. In its Satire of the Stalinist system, The Witness also functions to educate audiences who may be unfamiliar with this period in history, not by being factually accurate in terms of plot, but by over exaggerating the manipulation of reality performed by the government and the harshness of the regime in order to illustrate absurdity, ridiculous and incompetence. It offers a harsh critique in its humor.

The plot centers around Jozsef Pelikan and his family as he finds himself in and out of prison for upsetting the regime in each new office he is given. In an early scene, Jozsef’s daughter comes to visit him in prison and tells him that his life depends on whether or not the officials want to “make an example of him” for performing the illegal slaughter of their pig to feed the family (the discovery of which, while I will not speak on it here, was fraught with irony and ridiculousness). Since his old war buddy, Virag, has a plan involving Jozsef as key witness in an upcoming show trial, however, he is released from prison accompanied with the official statement that “there was no pig, there has never been a pig.” I point to these key comments by Jozsef’s daughter and the legal system itself because although they add an element of humor to the film they only do so because we recognize that under the Stalinist regime, similarly ridiculous, yet totally humorless situations did arise; it was a regime so terrifying because men’s lives hung in the balance in the whims of those in charge.

Virag consistently plants seeds in Jozsef’s mind that the minister Zoltan could have been a spy against them, since, “the suspicious thing about spies is that they aren’t suspicious.” He does this so that Jozsef will testify, though all involved are very aware that the trial is for show alone, the testimony scripted. After all, there must be the appearance that a fair trial has been given before condemning a man, even if everyone knows that the trial was not fair or honest. The trial itself presents a problem to Jozsef as he cannot get the story straight and eventually ends up betraying everything with a sudden bout of truthfulness only to find himself back in prison, awaiting execution by the end of the film. Jozsef states several times before his trial that “he is just an idiot.” This may signify that he does not want to be a part of the politics that allow a man to adopt the suspicions and abilities to easily fabricate stories against friends for the advancement of the self, as Virag is able to; he does not want to be smart in the ways of deception, he is too good hearted for the job yet goes along with the plot as start witness because he is still eager enough to please his superiors. He is a heroic idiot because he ultimately relies on truth and lives in the end, though by that point he seems more willing to die than continue to live a life in which everything is suspect.

At the end of the film, Jozsef is told that he will be rehabilitated and his reply is, “I’d rather be hanged.” He is no longer interested in being a part of the pomp and circumstance of the incompetent regime in their march toward socialism and triumph over imperialism. It is difficult to pin point exactly how The Witness became such a cult film in Hungary or why more has not been written on it. Perhaps the only way I can begin to describe the phenomena is to consider that satire both confirms the events of a given historical or contemporary period and, by showcasing them in an over the top, extreme way, work to scorn, out of a type of rebellion against it, a regime that was once so greatly feared because it suspected everything and because anyone, at any time could become “an example.”

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Stepping Back to Examine the "Game of War"

Miklos Jancso, The Red and the White (1968)

Jancso’s The Red and the White (1968) is a difficult film, particularly for audiences accustomed to traditional narrative form and film editing that focuses on the psychology of characters. I found myself doing exactly what Horton contends that Jancso wants his audiences to forget about – becoming perplexed by the realization that I did not grasp the historical period of the film in a way that made it easy for me to understand the nature behind the fighting/conflict; in essence, to understand the “why?” of the actions unfolding before me. Though for the most part I could accurately distinguish between the Whites and the Reds, armed with the knowledge that Hungarians were fighting with the Reds for communism against the Whites, the anti-revolutionary forces, making this distinction did not make much of a difference. This may have been because the film was not edited with the intention of establishing identification or bias for one side or the other.

The Red and the White focuses on both sides and does not condemn either side or the “rules” they arbitrarily employ. A better understanding of this can be gained by analyzing how each side deals with internal conflict. In one scene, which we have somewhat discussed in class, a White soldier forces a Hungarian civilian to undress. Presumably he is about to sexually abuse or rape her, when he is shot on the spot for abusing the civilian population. Clearly, this establishes that there are some rules in war and that abuse of the civilian population somehow breaks them, though in an earlier sequence and in sequences throughout the rest of the film, games are frequently played with men’s lives. Reds are forced to undress and to run away so that they may be hunted, as if for sport, by the Whites. Likewise, there is a sense of propriety governing the actions of the Reds. In one scene, a Red officer is about to shoot a group of his fellow comrades for running away from the Whites, when another from within states, “You have no right to shoot them. We all ran.” This statement suggests that a few cannot be blamed for the actions of the masses, and that the actions of a few reflect those of the whole Red army. This mode of thinking may be the same employed by the whites when they shoot the officer sexually assaulting the Red woman; if one soldier commits the crime, the ideology of the entire group is jeopardized. Even this attempt to make sense of specific killings, however, does not lead to an end of questioning. The motives for other actions seem to be totally absurd, or at best, unclear in their wider effect upon the playing out of the broader conflict between Red and White forces.

It is intriguing to continue to think about the film in terms of modernism and formalism. In terms of camera movement as well as the logic behind the fighting, there is a formalist aesthetic. The camera consistently focuses on the landscape, relying on it to comment on or accentuate the action of the troops. Our attention is directly drawn to the location. Long takes are used so that groups of soldiers rather than individuals are viewed throughout most of the film; we cannot become emotionally involved or begin to formulate plots and sub plots for ourselves during viewing. This seems to be very important to Jancso. It is also something that must be consciously done, since a natural instinct would be to focus on individual reactions and allow them to represent opinions and reactions of the masses. The actions characters employ also have specific formulas. To cite an example that seemed to baffle most of us, the scene where the nurses were taken into the woods, made to change into formal gowns and to waltz with one another, was clearly pre-planned. However, the motivation is unclear. Why is this scene in the film and why is it considered to be a form of bizarre humiliation as Horton suggests? I am still baffled by this scene but I will agree that it is quite haunting. Perhaps it has something to do with isolation and beauty in the midst of this war. The nurses do not take sides, at least not until threatened and forced by Whites to tell who the Red soldiers are. Considering this, perhaps they represent the calm of the end to conflict, yet they are cut off/ isolated from the politics of the nature of this conflict, representing something unattainable that we are given a glimpse of in the isolated space of the woods. Perhaps I am reading too far into the sequence, but perhaps that is also Jancso’s point, that attempting to establish any definitive understanding of either both or even those on neither side, is futile.

As far as being a modernist work, I certainly never forgot that what I was viewing was a film. I felt alienated from the action in my inability to draw more specifically from knowledge of Hungarian history. The final scenes framed the film as an epic about war in general and about class struggle and taking action to stand against oppression – about being revolutionary in general, though it was set in the specific year 1919. In its conclusion, the film seems to affirm that attempts to eradicate class and the struggles surrounding it are as futile as attempts to end war. War and killing become accepted and normalized as if they fit into a larger formula in ways that are necessary, but unable to be totally understood. Perhaps the same statement is being made about the class system when the Red soldiers march to their deaths singing the International. In the final scene, a (presumably Red and ultimately victorious?) soldier stands saluting with his weapon – the struggle continues; it is part of a much larger game. I cannot seem to come to terms with this final image; it is this image that will haunt me every time I think about this film.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Redemption is Futile

Alicia Chmielewski

Elmar Klos and Jan Kadar,The Shop on Main Street(1966)

“I am sure that audiences will find it difficult to forget the white-haired, hard-of-hearing, and bewildered old lady with the innocent face. She is the most powerful reminder I know of fascism and its victims.”- Jan Kadar on The Shop on Main Street

Jan Kadar commented on the making of The Shop on Main Street (1966) by saying that personal accounts and memories of the horrors of fascism speak louder than statistics; they provide a realism and truthfulness that is too often changed by films attempting to make broad generalizations. The emotive struggles of individuals provide a more telling window into the lived experience of the time and place than a wide-scoped documentary style film could have the power to do. Whereas both types of films would undoubtedly carry strong images of destruction and despair, the imagery of tragedy brought into the lives of real characters whom we grow to identify with and love more closely mimics (or makes us remember) the personal loss of our own loved ones, forcing us to feel the deepest emotional impact possible through our greater identification with the horror.

Both the fear of and attraction to fascism, at least in so much as one becomes complicit with those imposing its ideology, are displayed by the tragic entrapment of Tono Brtko, as he becomes (as we discussed some in class) an everyman character standing in for countless other Slovaks who never wished to bring harm to anyone yet allowed themselves to become trapped by fear and confusion, submitting to popular opinion over personal integrity. During the first few sequences of the film, Tono refuses to go into town, partly because he does not wish to see the monument under construction because it is being built as a beacon of nationalism, including a fascist aesthetic and partly because he does not want to see his brother-in-law, Mark, a local government official supporting the Fuhrer. We immediately see the tension between Tono and his nagging wife Evelyn who, though not presented as inherently wishing any harm on anyone, is in full support of stereotypes and laws working to allow Aryans to grow rich by displacing the Jews. For Evelyn, the sole concern is for her own kind; Jews are “others” and cannot be trusted. She has become totally indoctrinated and cannot understand why her husband has to resist.

Slowly, Tono begins to see his situation in another light when Mark visits, handing him the papers, after bringing decadent gifts and drinking to excess in Tono’s less extravagant home, which declare him the new Aryan owner of Mrs. Lautmann’s button shop. Tono is temporarily excited by the prospects of getting rich by owning a business and does not immediately have any qualms about telling Mrs. Lautmann that she must give up her business and leave because she is a Jew and there is a new law against Jews owning businesses. However, after discovering, through Mr. Kucher that his brother in law has played a mean trick on him, giving his access to an unprofitable shop, Tono is persuaded not to bother the old woman about leaving but to co-own the shop, receiving money from the Jewish community which currently supports Mrs. Lautmann so she will be able to retain her lifestyle as shop-owner.

Although Tono acknowledges from the beginning that this is a dangerous arrangement, evidenced by the fact that he makes up stories to tell his wife about why he has not gotten the keys to the shop and the way he frantically places a “closed for inventory” sign on the building on Sabbath, he does not seem to fully realize the extent to which he is in danger until he hears Mark and other party officials telling the townspeople that Jew lovers are worse than Jews themselves and that anyone who goes against the law will be severely punished.

What happens soon after to Tono is almost Biblical in his denial of friends who have also been aiding the Jews (Kuchar) and the somewhat prophetic dream he has with Mrs. Lautmann telling him that “fear is the root of all evil” just as he is sucked further into his own fear and psychologically haunted by his role in resisting the law. Though horror is written on his face as he sees the gruesome image of Kuchar with a “Jew Lover” sign pinned to his shirt, Tono cannot do anything to object. As a result, he becomes trapped by the guilt over his non-action as well as his fear to act on the behalf of these personal friends.

In the final few sequences, Tono’s fear pushes him to the brink of madness as Mrs. Lautmann appears to remain completely oblivious to her own danger until she sees all of her friends gathered outside the shop and runs to prayer, remembering the pogroms. Tono’s immediate response is to protect the old woman, but as his nerves intensify he is pushed into a rage during which he resolves, “It’s either me or her. She has to go,” and warns her, “Don’t make me throw you out!” Throughout his ravings back and forth, in one instance attempting to make Mrs. Lautmann realize her own danger, in another desperately attempting to persuade her to go outside, Tono adopts a self-pitying attitude, wondering why he has been placed in such a position.

And there is no escape from entrapment to be found for Tono, though those who actively take part in sending the Jews to concentration camps and directly sending them to death, as represented by Mark, walk away without a care weighing their consciences. Ultimately Tono accidentally kills Mrs. Lautmann when he forces her into a closet after the Jews have been driven from town, so that she would not be discovered to both her own and his detriment. Tono opens the closet once danger has passed to find Mrs. Lautmann dead and consequently hangs himself.

In spite of these tragic events, however, I take a different stance on the issue of whether there is any redemption to be found in such events. While I hold that there is no redemption to be found for those trapped by fear and continuing to comply with the extermination of the Jews and the basic tenets of fascism, such as Evelyn or Mark, a futile sort of personal redemption is found for both Mrs. Lautmann (who doesn’t really need redeeming at all) and Tono.

Just before being forced into the closet, Mrs. Lautmann loses her fear of those whom she knows wish her harm; she is determined to close the shop on Sabbath, valuing her beliefs and sense of moral right in spite of the fact that officials are just outside. Though her death was tragic, it did not come as a direct result of a fascist hand. Mrs. Lautmann was martyred while maintaining complete innocence and faith, like countless other Jews who survived this moment only to directly witness the deaths of their loved ones, yet with the dignity of not being subjected to the same torments in a concentration camp.

Tono’s redemption comes as he realizes what has become of him and decides to commit suicide. His suicide releases him from the type of world that could permit such evils. He escapes entrapment through death and returns to a state of no fear with Mrs. Lautmann in a dreamlike eternity.

This analysis of the final scene remains problematic in its shred of redemption, however, because for all the suffering of the entire film, nothing has really changed. Tono and Mrs. Lautmann may be at peace, but only because they are released from the horrors, not because anything changes to make the world less horrific or the simultaneous fascination and fear of fascism less destructive. Nothing changes in the broader context of history and that realization is what creates additional tension in our viewing of the ending. We want to be optimistic, but we realize that no ending would have been able to offer escape in light of such personal tragedy; we are disillusioned as Tono was upon first acknowledging what fascism and nationalism were bringing about. Though released from history in her death, Mrs. Lautmann’s face remains engraved in my memory, there is no escaping her haunting presence.