Red Psalm has finally arrived from the excellent folks at Second Run. It may only be 82 minutes and only 28 shots but this represents a lot of Miklós Jancsó magic.
The story itself concerns a socialist uprising of farm workers and the authorities suppression of their rebellion. It's like a kind of socialist passion play, executed in the round within the landscape, while the constant roving eye of the camera directs our gaze towards the events of the narrative.
This can seem quite confusing to begin with particularly if you haven't seen the director at work before. I would liken it to a cycle of fresco paintings in which the artist has represented a number of narrative moments simultaneously within one framing device. Within the 28 long takes which comprise the film the director marshals his resources composing the next scene as the continuous take progresses. What can initially appeared to be chaos is in fact a highly organised and meticulously choreographed sequence of events which remain stunningly cinematic. Please expunge any thoughts of Hitchcock's Rope from your mind.
Ostensibly this is a film without editing and the cuts between the long takes are a matter of necessity. Of course the constant re-framing is a form of spatial editing but remarkably Jancsó actually creates a temporal edit within the constructs of the long take. At one point it is clear, to me at any rate, that not only does the re-framing denote a progression within the narrative but it also indicates a shift in time within the narrative. It's the work of a genius.
The narrative itself remains somewhat amorphous while the cast represent archetypes of peasants, soldiers, clergy and landowners and so on, rather than defined characters with a 'back story'. Consequently, it is sometimes hard to discern exactly whose side some of them are on, as they roam in and out of the action. This may actually be part of the plot since the deception of one character, or group by another is a theme found in Jancsó's work, as in The Round-Up, for example.
This is another great release from Second Run and comes with an episode of the director's documentary series Message of Stones. And of course another excellent, informative and educational booklet, this time with an essay by Peter Hames.
The source material seems to have been in reasonable condition and on the whole the DVD looks very good. The 16:9 digital transfer 'with restored image and sound' is approved by the director. However, there are some rather under lit passages towards the latter part of the film that look very grainy on disc. I believe this simply reflects the fact that Jancsó has apparently continued to shoot well into the evening. And it all sounds good too.
Miklos Jansco's films of the 1960s and 1970s are unique in World Cinema. Their extraordinary choreography of radical political events in Hungarian history will not be to everyone's taste, but for me these are extraordinary films made by a director of possible genius. 'Red Psalm' continues with the style of 'The Round Up' (1965) and 'The Red and The White' (1967) in its stunning portayal of a peasant uprising and its consequence in rural C19th Hungary. You either like it or you don't - I love it.