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THE NOTEBOOK (LE GRAND CAHIER)

The Notebook (Le Grand Cahier) (R), a Hungarian World War II film, makes for a grim but utterly fascinating parable, a tale of compassionate, city-bred twins who teach themselves the cruelty they need in order to survive the horrors of war.

The preteen boys - whose names we never learn - are inseparable. Their mother refuses to split them up even though their father says twins are too conspicuous in wartime. In the last summer of the war, she takes them to the border farm where her estranged mother (Piroska Molnrnt) ekes out an existence.

The lads (Laszlo and Andras Gyemant) silently witness the hatred the two women have for each other, and begin a grueling existence there. The locals call the old lady a witch, and we can believe it. But they learn how to handle the old lady. They train themselves not to flinch at pain by having violent slap fights. They force themselves to forget the mother they're sure has forgotten them. And they practice cruelty, on each other, chickens and the old witch.

There is rough justice to this tale, based on an Agota Kristof novel. But there is as much injustice, a kind of heartless expediency that only writers who need to illustrate how war hardens children could dream up.

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