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In Jancso's abstract panorama of early 20th century Hungarian history,
we get history as a theater of allusive gestures, human beings as
symbolic codas, emotion as symphonic ritual. The idea, as I see it, is
have every element of the story mingle in the background as theater,
and bring to the foreground this or that image, now a woman holding a
rose, now couples dancing, now wandering in the mist.
So as the camera roams around, it can catch glimpses of something purer than life. Scenes of courting, socialist sermon to peasants, ballroom dances, horse gymnastics, defeat and lossmore stylized than real and coexisting as continuous reality. The plot is always vague, background distant news. It may be that an army officer is dying and conjures what we see, his two loves, dancing and war failure.
It is interesting, to be sure. Instead of clean historic sweeps, hazy unfolding impressions.
It is something like Greenaway in constructing a theatric abstraction, and Tarkovsky in trusting an intuition for images guide you from the theatric abstraction, to abstract insides of life. It's a beautiful film.
But for whatever reason, this particular solution to narrative doesn't work for me. Whereas Tarkovsky is ecstatic, this bores me to tears, there is no passage inside. It misses some emotional connection, that will let you ford into the river of impressions. So I'd rather have this as history than Spielberg's clean, but as something transformative? Which it plainly desires to be, transcendent. It is a ritual, but only the outside image of dancers.
If you recognize the name "Hungarian Rhapsody", it's because you've
probably heard Franz Liszt's famous song in a Looney Tunes/Merrie
Melodies cartoon or two: "Rhapsody Rabbit", "Back Alley Oproar", "Wise
Quackers" and "What's Up, Doc?", to name a few. Later on in "Who Framed
Roger Rabbit", Daffy Duck and Donald Duck play it on pianos.
Well, Miklos Jancso's movie "Magyar rapszodia" has nothing to do with any of what I just described; for starters, they don't play Franz Liszt's song. It portrays a peasant revolt in Hungary in the early twentieth century (it seemed like it took place around the same time as the Russian Revolution, but I can't verify that). I can't claim to be any connoisseur of Hungarian cinema, so I probably can't compare this movie to most other flicks from that country. But I can say that it has to be one of the most overdone films that I've ever seen. There is some look at the power structure and class system in the early twentieth century, but they throw so much at you that it's nearly impossible to digest.
So, if you're studying cinema from Magyarorszag*, this might be one to check out. But before analyzing it, you have to try and keep track of it. I think that Istvan Szabo's "Sunshine" was the best movie that I've ever seen about Hungary's history.
One other thing that I noticed: the nudity in this movie. I know that movies from the Soviet Union didn't show people having sex. But I see that a flick from one of it's satellite states shows lots of nudity. I wonder whether that had anything to do with Hungary's more lenient goulash communism (it must be the only country that named a governmental system after a stew).
*Magyarorszag is the Hungarian name for Hungary.
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