THE WITMAN BOYS (János Szász, 1997)

János Szász’s Woyzeck (1994) is brilliant; but how good a filmmaker would Hungary’s Szász prove to be without the Büchner to work with? Answer: damn good. Evidence: Witman fiúk.
     At the turn of the century, two bourgeois schoolboys, János and Ernö Witman, lose their father. They more or less also lose their mother, who either deals with her grief or sidesteps it by taking in a lover, thereby neglecting her sons even more than she used to. Meanwhile, the boys deal with their situation by torturing animals, including the family dogs, so as to be able to deliver them from pain by killing them, frequent the local whorehouse in a confused quest for comfort as well as sex, and at the last stab Mother to death and steal her jewelry. Szász, incidentally, does not show the animal torture, let alone actually harm animals; with cunning he has one of the Witman brothers disclose these activities in confession! The Roman Catholic Church represents institutional forces arrayed against the individuality of the boys and their sense of self. Soldiers running-marching in the street suggest the same theme, as does the boys’ schoolteacher, who sadistically has one classmate administer corporal punishment to another.
     After their father’s death the boys are told, “I know how painful it is to lose a father.” But this presumed consolation discounts the boys’ individuality. Similarly, when János’s appetite wanes, his mother protests that the upshot will be that she will be gossiped about as being unable to feed her children—again, to her children, a dismissal of their needs and reality. Ironically, it is the apparent brevity of the widow’s grief that attracts gossip.
     Unsentimental, cool, darkly fascinating, Szász’s film, written by Szász and András Szeredás, derives from Géza Csáth’s story “Matricide.”

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