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Monday, February 24, 2014

THE NOTEBOOK Review: Oscar Submission Series

Photo courtesy of Beta Cinema
2013, 109 minutes
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language.

Review by Joshua Handler

János Szász's The Notebook was shortlisted for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and has no relation to the 2004 film of the same name.  It is a crime that The Notebook wasn't nominated for the Oscar.  The film tells the story of two unnamed boys (András Gyémánt and Lázló Gyémánt) who are brought to the Hungarian countryside to live with their brutal grandmother (Piroska Molnár) during World War II.  As the violence and inhumanity begin to pervade their daily lives, the twins begin to do exercises to desensitize themselves to the darkness around them in order to survive.

The Notebook is as original a vision as they come.  There have been numerous films that depict wars from children's point of views, but few come close to capturing something this original.  The unnamed children in The Notebook are largely affectless, showing very little emotion.  They are each other's entire lives - two parts of one whole.  World War II and life with their grandmother is shown through their eyes as an exercise of sorts.  There is nothing that can't be overcome through exercises.  For example, to conquer pain, the boys beat each other to get used to any beating they receive.  Szász makes sure that we develop no emotional connection to anyone in the film, creating a cold piece of work, mirroring the mindset of the twins.  Oscar-nominee Christian Berger's crisp, carefully composed shots complement the lack of emotion, and they add a layer of beauty in a film full of horror.

Children have a need to take control of their lives and almost always manage to do so, even when adults around them can't.  The Notebook shows the twins taking control of every aspect of their lives.  The film itself is a testament to the resilience of children in the face of great evil.  During World War II, entire countries fell due to weakness and fear.  In a short period of time, the twins conquered what many countries failed to conquer: fear of pain, death, and evil.  Had the twins been slightly older, they would certainly have joined the resistance.

Overall, The Notebook is an unforgettable piece of cinema, featuring committed performances (the Gyémánts give two of the most complex child performances ever), strong direction, eye-popping cinematography, and an ending that nears perfection.  Many films lose much of their impact at the end, but not The Notebook.  If anything, the tense, unpredictable final scene gives the movie the punch that it builds up to.  János Szász has created one of the greatest and most unique World War II films in history and I can only hope this masterpiece finds success when Sony Pictures Classics releases it later this year.


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