Is it worth $10? Yes
“Those Who Remained” is a quiet, sensitive drama about grief and overcoming devastating loss. On its surface it’s about a Holocaust survivor and an orphan in 1948 Hungary, but on a deeper level it will also resonate with anyone who lost a loved one and had to move on.
The film, which was Hungary’s submission for the Best International Film category at the 2020 Oscars (it made the short list, but was not nominated), begins symbolically, with a birth. The doctor is 42 year-old Aladar Korner (Karoly Hajduk), and although the mother and child are irrelevant to the rest of the story, the newborn represents new life and new opportunity. Later that day Aladar meets Klara Wiener (Abigel Szoke), a spunky 16 year-old who insists her parents are still alive, they just haven’t made it home yet. Little does Aladar or Klara know they will become the most important person in the other’s life.
Soon the reclusive Aladar is receiving frequent visits from Klara. She grows on him, and reminds him of what he lost when he was in a concentration camp. He becomes a father figure to her, and fills the role that her parents are not around to fulfill. You never get the sense that there are ulterior motives for either; each is a lonely soul secretly yearning for a connection he/she lost years ago, and the symbiotic nature of their relationship provides that connection once more.
It’s not easy, though. People around town think they’re having an illicit affair, and as the Soviet Union begins to take over Hungary, their lives are once again in danger.
It’s a credit to director and co-writer Barnabas Toth, working from source material written by Zsuzsa F. Varkonyi, that the film never reaches for histrionics. That’s not who Aladar and Klara are. Just the opposite, in fact. He’s so numb to all he lost that he rarely shows any emotion. She’s more revealing, but often through nightmares and other subconscious ways. There are no grand breakdowns or gratuitous moments of melodrama, and as a result the story’s integrity never falters.
Certainly, Hajduk and Szoke deserve ample credit as well. Conveying internal agony is never easy for an actor, but when done well (e.g. Casey Affleck in “Manchester By The Sea”) it can be extraordinarily effective. We rarely know all that we’d like to know about Aladar and Klara, and that’s frustrating at times. However, you gradually realize that you don’t need to know the extent of their devastating realities. Toth is presuming that we know enough about the Holocaust to understand his characters’ anguish, and given that the film is clearly for adults only, that’s a fair presumption.
There is beauty in the humanity of “Those Who Remained.” It’s a film that wears its heart on its sleeve even though its characters prefer to keep their hearts buried. At 83 minutes it is brief, poignant and uplifting. It’s quite a film.
Did you know?
Hungary won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2015 for “Son Of Saul.”