János Szász’s gripping adaptation of Agota Kristof’s award-winning novel, about two boys sent to live with their wicked, estranged grandmother during World War II, is a grim, atmospheric drama about fraternal bonds and survival. Szász remodels his wartime coming-of-age story into a Brothers Grimm-like fairy tale, colouring the twins’ environment through the golden and earthy cinematography of Christian Berger (The White Ribbon, Festival 2009).
Contemporary World Cinema
Le Grand Cahier
János Szász's gripping adaptation of Agota Kristof's award-winning novel, set in Hungary during the Second World War, is a grim, atmospheric drama about fraternal bonds and wartime survival. Delivered with narrative zeal and suspenseful precision, Le Grand Cahier is Szász's victorious return to the screen following 2007's Opium: Diary of a Madwoman.
Emerging from the darkness of slumber, two thirteen-year-old twin brothers (András and László Gyémánt) share a brief moment of happiness as their father returns home from army service. It's 1944 and, increasingly concerned about the boys' safety, their parents send them to live in the countryside under the care of their estranged grandmother. Nicknamed "the witch" by local villagers, she exhibits a cruelty towards her young charges that only fuels their growing self-reliance. They begin to live their rural lives with a strict regimen of physical and psychological endurance and, on their father's instruction, keep a journal in a notebook. Befriending the neighbour's daughter, Harelip (played by Hungarian rising star Orsolya Tóth), they quickly learn how to manipulate the horrors of life: violence, discrimination, blackmail, death. However, they have yet to cope with the harshest lesson of life — that of separation.
Szász remodels the wartime coming-of age
story into a Brothers Grimm-like fairy
tale, colouring the twins' tenebrous environment
through the golden and earthy
cinematography of Christian Berger (The
White Ribbon, Festival 2009). With standout
performances underlined by Icelandic
composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's droning
and percussive score, Le Grand Cahier is a
stark look into the frailty of youth.