by Allan Fish
(Hungary 1965 90m) DVD2
Search for Sandor
p András Nemeth d Miklós Jancsó w Gyula Hernadi ph Tamás Somlo ed Zoltán Farkas art Tamás Banovich, Tilda Gáti cos Zsuzse Vicze
János Görbe (Gajdar Janos), Tibor Mólnar (Kabai), András Kozák (Ifj.Kabai), Gábor Agárdy (Torma), Zoltán Latinovits (Veszelka), Bela Barsi (Foglar), Janus Koltai (Varju Béla), Jószef Madaras (Magyardolmányos), Magda Schlehmann (Julie), Istvan Avar, Lajos Oze, Attila Nagi, Zoltán Basilides,
The Round-Up sounds rather like the title of a Monogram B western of the forties, but it couldn’t be more apposite. Horses do feature, but that’s about it. This is probably still the most influential film to come out of Hungary and, despite the various merits of the likes of Mephisto and Sátántangó, it remains, for me, the best film to come out of that long oppressed nation. Oppressed is the operative word here, for Hungary was oppressed at the time of its release and the film itself is about an oppression earlier in its history. Yet the film itself is also oppressed, as it is so hard to see these days. Aside from a heavily priced semi-letterbox print released on video in 1993 in the US, it’s virtually impossible to see these days, but in some ways it contributes to its elusive aura. Though Jancsó made many other fine films, from the magnificent The Red and the White to the almost terpsichorean Elektreia and the sexually explicit Private Vices, Public Virtues, this remains arguably his masterpiece, a film which, though maybe not comfortable viewing for many reasons, remains somehow just as essential over forty years on.
In 1868, a group of Hungarian peasants are rounded up and shipped off to a remote fortress on a seemingly endless plain, in whose courtyard they are left to survive the rainy elements. A young man is selected from the throng, taken to another part of the fortress, questioned about his revolutionary activities, released, then casually shot. Then an old woman points out the man she knows killed her family, but rather than kill him, they promise him freedom if he can show himself to be less guilty than others. Picking two out, one is hanged and the other kills himself when his beloved girl is beaten to death in a whipping ritual. The traitor is allowed to live as long as he points out other enemies of the state, but he himself is eventually killed.
This is a film about torture in every sense of the word. There’s an essence of Pasolini’s Saló in some of the sequences, particularly in the violent and shocking murder – one can only call it that – of the young girl and the following suicides of several men, throwing themselves from the high tower. Men truly are treated like something below an animal. They are told to move, told not to move, let to stand in the rain like poor Helen Burns, casually shot after being released, killed en masse after being pardoned. This is a truly paradoxical torture in which nothing can be trusted, no word and especially no deed. Though it becomes apparent that the purpose of the interrogation and torture is to find the legendary leader of the revolt, Sandor, in reality one senses that this is just an excuse to perform these acts of quick sickening violence. All the more sickening in that they are performed so perfunctorily and without emotion. The interrogators are not dressed in black for nothing, it is a vacuum-like colour that perfectly suits the demeanour of these frankly power crazy criminals. Nor is there any doubt what Jancsó is really denouncing. This has little to do with the 1860s, but is rather about the recent uprisings from communist rule, about the oppression of free speech and identity itself. His captured move as if in a nightmare from which they cannot wake, circling in the rain in the manner of monks giving each other public whippings in spiritual circles. Just as these bouts of group flagellation were seen as cleansing in the middle ages, there is the fact that they are left to mill about in the rain, another symbol of cleansing. In the end, Jancsó’s nationalist fervour takes over and his horde sing the Kossuth song, a parallel to Kubrick’s legendary “I’m Spartacus!” scene. Here there really is a solidarity in death.