The Notebook

(A nagy füzet)

In Hungary during World War II to survive is everything.

After all this time, it’s amazing that filmmakers are still able to find new and valuable war stories to tell. In the midst of the Second World War, two twin boys (played by András and László Gyémánt) – given only a notebook in which to record everything they see and hear – are left with their barbarous grandmother (Piroska Molnár) at the age of 13 when their father goes to war and their mother feels it’s no longer safe in the cities. Their paunchy grandmother, known by locals as ‘The Witch,’ wears a scowl when she reluctantly accepts the boys into her farmhouse. Her hospitality is not free, however, and the boys are forced to work long days on the farm while enduring her beatings in order to earn their supper.

Poster art for The NotebookSpending their impressionable years in wartime calls for rapid maturity. The twins are inseparable, making every decision in silent conference with one another before providing an answer. They decide to undergo a ‘training of the soul’ in order to defeat pain. They punch, insult, and spit on each other. They practice killing bugs so that they may be able to kill something larger should they have to. All the while, they never stop writing every detail of their experiences down in the notebook.

Although they aren’t involved in the battles, the twins cannot avoid witnessing the markings of history taking place around them. We see the war as they do. They come to know of the holocaust and racial prejudice by witnessing their friends turn into monsters, mocking the lines of Jews being marched through the village.

András and László Gyémánt, unnamed until the credits in which they are listed as ‘One’ and ‘Other,’ drive the film in what is startlingly their first performance. As boys entering adolescence, many adults try to take advantage of them. They aren’t asked to act so much as to live. They watch, listen, and play two extensions of a single performance.

János Szász directs The Notebook with characteristic melancholic gaze. Szász achieves a great pacing with this one, patient enough to allow you to soak in the atmosphere, but nimble enough to sidestep any downtime. You don’t often come by such an effortless achievement in which so many moving parts run perfectly in sync.

– Taylor Sinople, The Focus Pull

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