'Keep Quiet': Tribeca Review

Be prepared to talk about it afterwards.

Joseph Martin and Sam Blair's documentary tells the amazing story of a notorious anti-Semite who discovers his Jewish origins.

Expect plenty of spirited arguments to break out after screenings of Joseph Martin and Sam Blair's disquieting documentary about Csanad Szegedi. A young political firebrand and virulent anti-Semite who became vice president of Hungary's far-right extremist party Jobbik when he was only in his mid-twenties, Szegedi experienced a massive spiritual conversion upon discovering that he was actually Jewish. Receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, Keep Quiet should provoke strong controversy upon its theatrical release.

The doc effectively presents a brief historical primer of the troubled climate in Hungary in recent years, with the Jobbik party achieving significant political gains. The charismatic Szegedi was one of its young stars; among his other accomplishments, if you can call them that, was co-founding the Hungarian Guard, a now-banned paramilitary organization modeled after the notorious Arrow Cross. He also served in the European Parliament from 2009-2014.

Szegedi had his world rocked in 2012 when he was confronted by a fellow party member who had proof that Szegedi was in fact Jewish (we hear a recording of their secretly taped conversation). It seems that Szegedi's grandmother, who had been raised by Jewish foster parents, was Jewish herself, and had actually been sent to Auschwitz (how her grandson never once saw the number tattooed on her arm is left unexplained).

Amazingly, Szegedi, who was quickly booted out of his party, became as passionate about his newfound Judaism as he had once been about denouncing it. He met with Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, the leader of the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest, who not only forgave him for his past transgressions but took him under his wing. Szegedi was soon lecturing about his dramatic change of heart and embracing Jewish practices with a ferocious intensity; we see him praying, a tallis around his shoulders and his arms wrapped in tefillin. He even takes the dramatic step of getting circumcised.

The filmmakers document this miraculous change of heart through extensive interviews with their subject — who, depending on your point of view, could be seen as utterly sincere or completely fraudulent. He's not surprisingly met with skepticism from both sides: one former political colleague comments, "The way I see it, he couldn't ride our train anymore, so he boarded theirs." Upon lecturing to a Jewish group in Montreal, he receives such comments as "This is a big show you are putting on for us."  When someone remarks to Rabbi Oberlander that Szegedi is a Nazi, the rabbi jovially responds, "Yes, but he's my kind of Nazi."

The film includes moving interview segments conducted by Szegedi with his now deceased grandmother, who admits that it was simply easier to hide her background in the aftermath of the war. He takes her, for the first time, to see her mother's grave in a Jewish cemetery, and pays for a new headstone. He also accompanies an elderly female survivor to Auschwitz, even though he had formerly called the Holocaust just another historical event.

The charismatic Szegedi is certainly convincing in his apparent epiphany, and viewers, like many of the commentators in the doc, will no doubt be sharply divided about his true feelings. The film raises more troubling questions than it answers, but it's fascinating throughout nonetheless. And as for Szegedi's discovery of his true heritage, one can only say, "Mazel tov!"

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Documentary Competition)
Production companies: AJH Films, Passion Pictures
Directors: Joseph Martin, Sam Blair
Producers: Alex Holder, Danielle Clark, Nicole Stott
Executive producers: John Battsek, Kami Naghdi, Andrew Ruhemann
Director of photography: Marton Vizkelety
Editors: Ben Stark, Kim Gaster
Composer: Philip Sheppard

Not rated, 95 minutes