During the Second World War, Gyuri (Marcell Nagy), a 14-year-old Hungarian Jewish boy, has seen his father packed off to a forced labour camp and is doing his utmost to avoid the same fate. Nevertheless, he soon finds himself on a way journey to Auschwitz.
Fateless follows the journey of 14-year-old Hungarian Jewish boy, Gyuri Koves (Marcel Nagy), sent to Auschwitz and other concentration camps during WWII. It's adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by 2002's Nobel laureate, Imre Kertesz, and is cinematographer Lajos Koltai's directorial debut.
Fateless begins in Budapest, Hungary as Gyorgy 'Gyuri' Koves' father makes last minute decisions on the fate of his jewellery business and prepares to be sent to a labour camp. His son Gyuri, not fully digesting what is happening around him, is focused more on the things that concern adolescents, such as the pretty girl living next door. But it's not long before Gyuri's life and the way he views the world changes dramatically. Until then, the war had been a distant threat, with German occupation only arriving in Hungary in March 1944. But reality hits hard, when Gyuri is dragged off a bus with a small group of Hungarian Jewish boys and taken to a large holding cell occupied by hundreds of other adults and children.
Marcell Nagy delivers a haunting performance, using his eyes to show a depth of emotion as Gyuri is transported from the comforts of Budapest, to the horrors of the concentration camps. There he endures the brutality of the guards, starves and struggles to understand his fate, saying at one point, "I could be killed at any time," a sentence that brings home the magnitude of his experiences.
He is a hero who does nothing to help himself, heroic only because he survives and at every point you wish you could reach into the screen and help him.
Director Lajos Koltai adopts what could be seen as a very traditional way of telling his story. Fateless is filmed in a series of vignettes separated by fades to black. Initially this seemed unnecessary, but stylistically it makes sense when you allow yourself to enter the mind of our protagonist. The scenes are actually images or fragments of time, filtered through the memories of a 14-year-old boy. This is not intended to be a documentary, but it is how Gyuri remembers his experiences and is a reminder that memory is both delicate and selective.
Koltai avoids the manipulative weepfest seen in films like Benigni's Life Is Beautiful. Instead Fateless is beautiful. He doesn't shy away from accurately portraying the horrors of the concentration camps, but his framing is exquisite and the lighting, fragile, even as Gyuri's body begins to falter. He shows an almost poetic perspective to the Holocaust, that never diminishes the true horror. This is an approach some might find controversial. I found it traumatic, powerful filmmaking.