Keep Quiet (2016) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): The repentance of an anti-semite Jewish Hungarian

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Joseph Martin and Sam Blair’s documentary film “Keep Quiet” presents one extraordinary human story. Here is a man who has tried to reach for repentance and redemption since he confronted a hidden truth which shattered what he had fervently espoused for years, and the documentary gives us a number of quiet but powerful moments as calmly observing not only who he was but also whom he tries to be at present. While we cannot help but have some doubt on him for good reasons, the documentary is still a thought-provoking experience, and its main subject is surely relevant considering the recent political situation around the global community.

His name is Csanád Szegedi, and the early part of the documentary is mainly about his early years and his following rapid political rise during the 2000s. Considerably influenced by his father’s right-wing nationalistic view, Szegedi was ready to embrace nationalism during his college years, and he talks to us about how much he was drawn to far-right propagandas filled with crackpot ideas such as a global Jewish conspiracy. He eventually joined a radical nationalist party named Jobbik, and he quickly became quite prominent in public thanks to his wild, charismatic rhetoric.

As pointed out in the documentary, Szegedi and his party were at the right moment for aggressively expanding their political influence. As Hungary struggled with economic depression in 2006, many people in the country felt angry about the failure of their government, and Jobbik further propelled that volatile mood in a way not so far from how Hitler and his Nazi party did in Germany during the 1930s. Szegedi and other leading figures of Jobbik constantly propagated their messages full of xenophobia and anti-semitism in public, and he and his close associates even founded a paramilitary group called Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), which was fortunately banned in 2009.

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As he began to serve in the European Parliament thanks to his party’s considerable political success in 2009, Szegedi was prepared to go higher, but then there came an unexpected disclosure. When one of party members disclosed to Szegedi and others that Szegedi’s maternal grandmother is actually Jewish, Szegedi could not believe it at first, but there was an undeniable evidence, and then it was confirmed to him by his maternal grandmother, who also revealed to her grandson that she was a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp. Once this unbelievable fact was eventually exposed in public, everything in Szegedi’s public life instantly crumbled; he had no choice but to leave his party, and he confides to us that he even considered a suicide as feeling more morose and confused during that time.

While trying to deal with his confusion, Szegedi tried to find a way to restart his life and amend himself, and he found the way from an unlikely place. He went to a local synagogue in Budapest, and that was where he met Baruch Oberlander, who was understandably skeptical about Szegedi’s intention but decided to help Szegedi because that is what he should do as a compassionate religious man. Under Oberlander’s guidance, Szegedi slowly entered the world of Orthodox Judaism, and we watch him going through a number of rituals while accompanied with Oberlander and other rabbis.

Through Oberlander, Szegedi came to learn more about the Holocaust, which he and his former right-wing colleagues virtually derided and denied for years. At one point, we see him and Oberlander visiting a famous spot in Budapest where many Jewish people were killed during 1944-45, and Oberlander makes a sobering point on how many Hungarians were quite willing to assist Nazi Germany in murdering Jewish people. Szegedi also visited Auschwitz concentration camp along with an old lady who was sent there just like his grandmother, and he came to see that his grandmother did not exaggerate at all.

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As looking around the remains of the concentration camp along with Szegedi, the old lady tells him and us about what she experienced during that horrific time, and that is the most harrowing and haunting moment in the documentary. She still remembers well when she was sent to the concentration camp along with thousands of people including her families and friends, and we can feel her pain and sorrow as listening to her tragic story.

While getting himself closer to his Jewish root, Szegedi tried to present himself in public as a repentant man quite different from his former self, and Oberlander supported that as much as he could, but, of course, that turned out to be quite difficult. After Szegedi gave a speech at a meeting held in Germany, several people openly showed their skepticism on his changed status. During his visit to Canada, he was held by authorities for a while due to his political past, and he had to leave sooner than planned.

Is Szegedi really sincere in this rather dramatic personal transformation? And can he possibly attain what he supposedly hopes for? “Keep Quiet” wisely sticks to its calm, objective position, we come to wonder constantly about Szegedi and what will happen next in his uncertain life, and all I can tell you for now is that there is some tentative hope around the end of the documentary. Regardless of what you will think of him, this is one of the most fascinating documentaries of this year, and I am glad that it is widely available at present thanks to Netflix.

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