“Those Who Remained” was a frontrunner for the Critics Prize at this year's Miami Jewish Film Festival. Even though it didn't win, there was some fierce battling for it to get the prize from critics. In the end, the movie "Painted Bird" won, but "Those Who Remained" is still a winner.
It's easy to see why Hungary's official entry to the Academy Award for Best International Film had ardent fans. This delicate and bittersweet look at wayward souls in post-World War II Budapest may not have the most dynamic visual style, but even though it doesn't quite break new ground in thematic or aesthetic terms, it gives us complex characters we can't help caring for, at least once they're done getting on our nerves.
Based on the novel by Zsuzsa F. Várkonyi, the film centers around the unlikely friendship that blossoms between gynecologist Aladár Korner (Károly Hajduk) and the rebellious and precocious Klára Wiener (Abigél Szoke), a teen brought as a patient by her great-aunt Olgi (Mari Nagy), who rescued the girl from an orphanage at age 11. Klára's combustible personality suggests she'd be the last person a plain, taciturn and soft-spoken man like Aladár would gravitate toward. (He resembles an elongated, sad-sack Robert Benigni, utterly devoid of joy.)
But when the pesky 16-year-old's enervating ways lead her to the good doctor's doorstep, their ensuing relationship feels utterly believable. They might be damaged goods apart, but together, their lives attain something that resembles the normalcy they've been deprived of for far too long.
Because what links this mismatched duo is the sting of personal loss. One of the film's most rewarding aspects is watching Klára peel back the layers concealed beneath Aladár's unassuming facade, and in turn witnessing Aladár patiently reining in Klára's self-destructive impulses.
Most bracing of all is director and co-screenwriter Barnabás Tóth's ability to navigate how the characters grapple with their devotion to one another, emotional and physical, and how it arises suspicions in a society where people “disappeared” on a regular basis. It's a precarious tightrope the filmmaker is required to walk in handling subject matter that could easily turn salacious and icky in less assured hands.
But deep affection for these two loners who bring each other back to life wins the day in “Those Who Remained,” a wistful and touching period piece that wears down your defenses and wrings tears that feel fully earned. Well done.
Opens Friday, Feb. 21 in Miami and Broward County at AMC Aventura 24/Miami and The Classic Gateway Theater, Ft. Lauderdale.
Opens Friday, Feb. 28 in Boca Raton at Living Room Theaters.
Writer/director Barnabas Toth will be in South Florida theaters opening weekend to host Question and Answer segments after the screenings.