The Amazon Description / Synopsis of this film is so prosaically literal that it gives no hint to the extraordinary experience of actually watching this powerful film.
This is another great package from Second Run. While the inconsistency of exposure is clearly inherent in the original, the print itself shows signs of damage throughout. Also, there seems to be some overly video enhanced quality to a couple of shots in the first ten minutes, where the film image hasn't transferred too well, but these small things don't impair the overall experience.
This film simply doesn't offer the narrative or historical certainties suggested by the description, and it's so much more powerful for that. The film is greater than the matter of fact description would imply. This is because the narrative is pared down to the absolute minimum, like a diamond which must be cut down so as to reveal and optimise its quality.
Having read that Nemec greatly admired Bresson it's easy to make sense of the minimal, crystalline sound track [there's none of your non-diegetic mood enhancing music here] but the powerful restless, technically loose B & W cinematography clearly takes inspiration from elsewhere.
There's no concrete reason to suppose that the two boys are Jewish or that the old men are part of a pro-Nazis home guard, but there's every reason to fear them, whoever they are. In fact there's only two shots in the whole film that might place the action in any specific historical context. It's only knowledge of the source material [which is discussed in the excellent booklet] that furnishes us with these precise particulars and which Nemec seems to deliberately avoid, thus transcending the specific, he creates an ageless vision of the inhumanity of man.
The opening shock of the relentless, breathless escape from the train, up through the woods, gives way to the first truly astonishing sequence. At a farm the wife gives the boys some bread, but as so often in this film, can we be sure of what we see? Are we presented with alternative outcomes or psychotic occurrences? The potency of these images affect our response to the rest of the film.
As with the group of men who descend upon and surround the picnickers in Nemec's The Party & The Guests, it's the appearance of the group of armed old men that brings a chill of disquiet, increased menace and final horror to the action.
The final sequence of the film parallels that of the farmer's wife sequence, in as much as it presents shots that appear to contradict one another. As the exhausted boys disappear, back into the woods, it's not at all clear what this apparent freedom means.
If you haven't already guessed I recommend this film.