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The Notebook (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 104 minutes.

Not for children.

Not to be confused with Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling falling in love in the 2004 tearjerker, as World War II is drawing to a violent end, Mother (Gyöngyvér Bognár) and Father (Ulrich Matthes), a Hungarian soldier home on leave for a few days,  for the safety of their twin sons (played by András and László Gyémán who remain unnamed throughout the film) deliver them to the custody of their maternal grandmother (Piroska Molnár), who lives in the country.

The father gives the boys a Bible and an empty notebook and tells them to write down everything that happens to them. Grandmother is a hateful, angry woman known by all around as “the witch,” who poisoned her husband and hates her daughter. The boys are then basically abandoned to their grandmother and the mother departs alone.

While their parents clearly love them, Grandmother does not. The twins are, in essence, the same person, two bodies with one spirit, one will, and one soul, in the words of director János Szász, even finishing each other’s sentences. In order to survive, they transform themselves from gentle, loving boys into insensitive emotional barbarians, intentionally desensitizing themselves to pain and normal human emotions, abandoning all morals.

In addition to the twins, every character in the film is flawed either physically or emotionally.

Beautifully photographed (Christian Berger) and well-directed with admirable pace by Szász, who co-wrote the lean script with András Szekér, based on the international bestseller, Le Grand Cahier by Agota Kristof, this could be one of the most realistic depictions of the hopelessness and brutality (both physical and emotional) of war ever filmed.


Although a story of war, it’s not even close to being a traditional WWII movie like Battleground (1949) or The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949). There are no battles, no opposing armies, just ordinary human beings, non-combatants trying to survive a world war that’s being fought all around them. Complicated and intense, every person in this film changes because of what war does to them, up to and including the shocking, thought-provoking ending.

In Hungarian.