I knew that I would be watching something harrowing when I selected The Notebook as the next movie from the 2013 Adelaide Film Festival. The movie tells a story of twin brothers – who are strangely unnamed for the duration of the movie. It was 1944 when Hungary was at war with Nazi Germany. Their father is a soldier and to keep the boys safe, their mum decides to send them away to their grandmother in the countryside. Their dad gives them a notebook and asks them to record everything that happens to them in the book. We then learn that their mum hasn’t been home for twenty years – to the disgust of the grandmother.
The notebook becomes the witness of how war and love deprivation destroys the boys – how they beat each other up and deliberately hunger themselves so that they are accustomed to pain and cruelty. The fact that their grandmother pretty much detests them and calls them ‘Bastards’ all the time doesn’t help either. The boys devise a series of life lessons to toughen themselves up, and in the process destroy their own childhood and character, which leads to the final poignant lesson.
János Szász, the director, doesn’t shy away from the things that are quite taboo when we are dealing with children as the subject. The Notebook skirts around many sensitive issues such as cruelty towards children and even paedophilia with the World War II as the backdrop. None of such issues are explicitly brought to the surface but the audience would know that it’s there. The movie also highlights the fact that war destroys everybody involved – especially the children. Szász also cleverly hides most of the horrors away from the viewers by using the notebook sketches as a way to convey the terrible things that happened – however, there are still some scenes that will probably make you cringe.
The Notebook is a powerful movie and it is the official entry from Hungary for the 2014 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.