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Another Revolutionary Jancso Classic,
This review is from: The Confrontation (Fényes szelek) [DVD] (DVD)
When the communists take power in Hungary in 1947 they send young militants into colleges to radicalise the students, teachers and education system.
Jancso was a big name director in the 1960s, but then fell into almost total neglect outside Hungary. For those of us who didn't see his films first time around, the Second Run DVD's of his mid 60s classics ('Way Home', 'Round Up' & 'Red and White') have been a revelation - it's not often you come across a director with a completely different and original style, a completely different type of cinema.
Second Run recently released a slightly later (1971) film 'Red Psalm' and 'Confrontation' is similar to 'Red Psalm' - it's a beautiful colour film (Jancso's first) and represents an historic event through choreographed, almost balletic movement of actors and camera, set to songs and folkloric dance. But 'Confrontation' is earlier (1968) and seems a more coherent film to me than 'Red Psalm'. Jancso sets the film in one college and, given his trademark symbolic style, the film becomes heavily allegorical. Doubtless the college stands for divided Hungary in 1947 slipping into communist terror, but the allegorical resonances are much broader. In fact the film is more redolent of the year of its making 1968 than 1947 and brings to mind both May 68 student revolutions and the young red guard activities in the cultural revolution in China ('Confrontation' would make an eclectic period piece triple bill with Godard's 'La Chinoise' and Lindsay Anderson's 'If').
Idealistic communist youths trying to win over the main body of students through democratic debate are contrasted with an ultra leftist faction who think that force - terror - must be used to defeat the reactionaries and closet fascists. Jancso's style brings out the twists and turns in this political confrontation with surprising clarity. Jancso cleverly makes the college a religious order, a monastery seminary, thus adding Christianity vs communism to the various levels of confrontation in the film. He also has a Jewish holocaust survivor central character, who refuses to conform and brings out how the revolutionaries are mirroring the preceding fascist terror. There is also a suggestion that all the youths are children playing at revolution while the communist police and apparatchiks, who occasionally appear at crucial points in the narrative, are the grown-ups and the real power. The ending is cleverly ambiguous and disturbing, leaving the last word to the ultra leftists.
It is certainly not a straightforwardly pro or anti communist film and one suspects that Jancso has a romantic or nihilistic sympathy with the ultras. The communist cultural commissars and censors in Hungary 1968 must have been scratching their heads trying to work out exactly what the film was saying. What is startling today is how Jancso delivers all this complicated historical, political & ideological confrontation through colourful choreographed stylisation - less like Brecht and sometimes more akin to a Jacques Demy musical!
Second Run have done their usual excellent job with the presentation of this DVD (including informative booklet/essay) - let's hope they get to release the remaining unseen vintage Jancso movies sooner rather than later.