A Hungarian who fled Budapest for London after the 1956 uprising, Robert Vas soon after made Refuge England, which, fusing fictional and documentary elements, drew upon his own experience. The protagonist of this brilliant short is Tibor Molnar, a postwar Hungarian refugee. Molnar retraces his steps from his first day in London more than a decade earlier, before he knew more than a single English word. (That one word was refugee.) What we see is how things “actually” happened on that fictitious day. Molnar tries to locate the person at the address that had been written down for him at the refugee camp. Alas, this address is incomplete; there is a “Love Lane” in many diverse districts of London, and he has to ferret them all out from daylight to darkness. Along the way a few persons try to help, but a vast number of faces seem impersonal and oblivious, and Molnar feels hopelessly shut out of the life of a city whose noises are familiar but whose language he doesn’t understand. The last address he checks out proves to be the right one. The door opens; he is welcomed in.
Gorgeously cinematographed in crisp black and white by Walter Lassally (a future Oscar winner for Zorba the Greek), Vas’s remarkable film combines Molnar’s fictional reconstruction (giving birth to the genre of pseudodocumentary?) with voiceover that stresses the immigrant’s original displacement, loneliness and being literally and emotionally lost. Silently Molnar re-enacts the past while voiceover “gives voice” to this past situation of his over which he has triumphed by learning English and finding his place in London.
The film nearly opens by quoting an actual Hungarian immigrant, Làszlò Cs. Szabò: “Restore to me, last rock of refuge, England,/ Dignity that befits me as a man.”
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