“Being scared alone does not make you a whore,” says Aldó to Klára, when she is reprimanded by her aunt Ogi for hugging him. “I’m scared too.”
In Barnabás Tóth’s tender Those Who Remained, adapted from the 2004 novel by Zsuzsa F. Várkonyi, the two have an instant spiritual connection when they meet, as the 16-year-old girl comes to his clinic for a gynecological exam. Dr. Aládar “Aldó” Kőrner (Károly Hajduk) senses the vulnerability and sadness of the precocious Klára (Abigél Szőke) and relates to her obvious need for human connection and the loneliness which he also suffers from. They are both ‘those who remained’ – a term for those who did not die during the horrors of the holocaust camps and who are left to deal with wounds of the trauma that was inflicted on them for the rest of their lives. As Klára says: “It is harder for us than those who left.”
The year is 1949 and 42-year-old Aldo has learned to live in solitude and cope with the loss of his wife and two sons, whereas Klára is in denial about the fate of her parents. She is still writing letters to them in order to inform them of what is going on in her life in post-war Budapest, and she eagerly tells them about Aldó, who has entered her life. The truth is that she has just come from the Israelite Community Orphanage to stay with a woman she calls aunt Ogi (Mari Nagy) until she is old enough to lead a life on her own – and her parents will never read her letters.
Her great aunt Ogi eventually sees that the presence of Aldo as a father figure is good for Klára and an arrangement is made where she lives with them both. The unusual living arrangement does raise some eyebrows in particular with a schoolteacher, who passes by as Aldó is caressing Klára’s hair on a bench in the park. What was she doing with her head in his lap? she wants to know at school the next day.
The war might be over but the suffering is not. Furthermore, the dominance of the Nazis in Hungary has been exchanged for the oppression of the new communist regime. Hungary is now politically related to Russia and ‘those who remained’ need to deal with all this as they try to live a life with human connection and warmth – and love.