In 1919, Hungarian Communists aid the Bolsheviks' defeat of Czarists, the Whites. Near the Volga, a monastery and a field hospital are held by one side then the other. Captives are executed... See full summary »
Miklós Jancsó's Silence and Cry is set during a turbulent era of disquiet, fear, persecution and terror, which permeates every corner of post-WWI Hungarian society. In 1919, after just a ... See full summary »
In Hungary, the national movement led by Kossuth has been crushed and the Austrian hegemony re-established, but partisans carry on with violent actions. In order to root out the guerilla, ... See full summary »
In the final days of WWII, a seventeen-year-old boy wanders the countryside. He is captured by Soviet troops, then released, then captured once more - after he has donned a German uniform ... See full summary »
It is 1947; the Communist Party has just taken power in Hungary. In Jancsó's first color film, young students at a People's College have a debate with seminary students, but worry it will escalate into a fight.
In the old days it was called hypochrondria, or black melancholia. Now, apparently, it's termed the Asthenic Syndrome. Whatever it is, Nikolai, a teacher of epicly indifferent pupils, has ... See full summary »
Alegory of the suppression of the 1919 revolution and the advent of fascism in Hungary; in the countryside, a unit of the revolutionary army spares the life of father Vargha, a fanatical ... See full summary »
In the book “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” eminent film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote about RED PSALM being “…dazzling…awesome…ravishing…striking…it may well be the greatest Hungarian film of its time…”; conversely, Miklos Jancso'’s acknowledged masterpiece THE ROUND-UP (1965) – which I adore – is conspicuous by its absence in that singular pantheon. Besides, the late great film critic Raymond Durgnat wrote extensively about this film in his very last article published in 2002. Furthermore, Jancso' won the best direction prize at the Cannes Film Festival when Joseph Losey (whom I admire a great deal) was the President of the Jury and where RED PSALM was competing against such remarkable contenders as Robert Altman’s IMAGES, Harry Kumel’s MALPERTUIS, Peter Medak’s THE RULING CLASS and Andrei Tarkovsky’s SOLARIS! Why is it, then, that my star rating is such a lowly one?
There is no doubt in my mind that this is a key work in the director’s canon (which makes my underwhelmed reaction all the more painful to me) but, frankly, this is truly a case where form completely overpowers content or, to put it in the apposite layman’s terms, a film which can only be admired but not enjoyed. The main reason for this is that the entire running time (a relatively modest 81 minutes in PAL mode) is taken up by Jancso'’s obsession with politics and folklore with no space left for any real characters to emerge much less a discernible plot line. This would hardly be a problem in itself where it not for the fact that when somebody takes a break from the constant – and by now familiar – communal dancing marathons (which, thankfully, does mean that some of the typically stunning girls get to shed their clothing), they do so only to spout a litany of Communist diatribes which completely wear the viewer (and the film itself) down before long. Although Jancso'’s exuberant visual style always had a certain aloofness to it, I really didn’t connect at all with any of the characters or events depicted here. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this is one time where the English subtitles (which, in themselves, are grammatically awkward and replete with spelling mistakes) distinctly felt like an intrusion and their verbosity detracted from the power of the meticulously composed images. Consequently, one’s enjoyment of the film as a whole suffers for it and given the generic, prosaic nature of the dialogue, I might well consider watching the film unsubtitled in the future! Amusingly enough, however, the Catholic prayer of Our Father is even blasphemously transformed into a Communist credo at one point.
Still, this is not to say that the film is completely worthless: the rebelling peasant farmers sing various songs (a couple of which are in English) that, while lyrically are merely propagandistic, are also melodically haunting. Given Jancso'’s penchant for lengthy, traveling sequence-shots (the film is said to contain a mere 26 in all!) which are, essentially, its true raison d’etre, some striking images can’t help but stand out, in particular the burning of a church by the peasants and their eventual massacre by the landowners’ army of defenders. Even more remarkable is Jancso' fusing his historical recreation with unexpected but decidedly welcome fantasy elements which sees dead people coming back to life with a kiss and, in an unheralded uproar to which nobody retaliates, an incensed peasant woman shoots several soldiers in quick succession single-handedly, etc.
As a result of my disappointing viewing of RED PSALM, I have decided to to take a sabbatical from Jancso' for now and postpone the three other films of his that I have in my possession to a later date (by which time, nevertheless, hopefully I would have acquired two more)…
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