Fateless is in no way diluted by the fact that many of its most powerful moments come from the classic iconography of Holocaust horror, like the row of stacked suitcases left by an empty train, or (the film's most disturbing and, I fear, unforgettable sequence) a panorama of prisoners in their striped uniforms, swaying uncontrollably in their ranks with sickness and fatigue.
Koltai and his director of photography, Gyula Pados, at times make Fateless unnervingly beautiful, which might raise some suspicions of the film's integrity. Yet the extremely tactile nature of the images makes it far harder for us to distance ourselves from the film's world than from, say, that of Schindler's List or the ghetto of Polanski's The Pianist, which felt safely distant by virtue of their archive-photo hyper-realism. Fateless is at once minutely realistic and as stylised as nightmare: a restricted palette of faded blues and greys depicts the camp universe as a polar hell, sunless and metallic (although, as Gyula puts it with awful precision, "Hell doesn't exist: the camps do.").
Of all fiction films I've seen about the camps, Fateless is the most specifically and painfully evocative of the day-to-day realities of hunger, fatigue, cold and wet. It's also rare among its genre in successfully eschewing all traces of sentiment and in acknowledging the place of anger as a response to the Holocaust experience. The one terrible mistake is a syrupy score by Ennio Morricone, which Roberto Benigni would have hesitated to use in Life is Beautiful. It coats a harrowing, austere film with a veneer of kitsch; or then again, who knows, perhaps it helps us watch what might otherwise have been intolerable.Reuse content