Archive for July 8th, 2021

by Allan Fish

Red Psalm (Hungary 1971 86m) DVD2

Aka. Még Kér a Nép

Johnny is my darling…

p Miklós Jancsó d Miklós Jancsó w Gyula Hernadi ph Janos Kende ed Miklós Jancsó m Ferenc Sebo art Tomás Banovich
Lajos Balázsovits, András Bálint, Gyongyi Bürös, Andrea Drahota, Jószef Madaras,

When he was asked about his preponderance of blood in his Pierrot le Fou, Jean-Luc Godard, in typically abstract fashion, disagreed, saying that it was not blood but red. One director who would have understood exactly what he meant was Miklós Jancsó, and this 1971 film – the title is not there for nothing – would prove that very notion. It’s a challenging film, a dizzying enterprise which ravishes the senses while irritating them at the same time. There are times one longs for a rest from its symbolic repetition, and yet the final cumulative effect is unlike any other film of its era.

Red Psalm is set in the late 19th century on a small Hungarian estate owned by a count, and on which peasants are gathered to celebrate harvest while awaiting a response to their demands following their decision to strike. The government sends troops to quell the uprising, but at first the violence takes a cessation so the troops can join the peasants to celebrate the harvest. Soon after, however, and following the failed intervention of the increasingly ignored church, the troops round up the peasants, surround them, and shoot them en masse.

It begins in a tone which both exemplifies rural tradition and revolutionary fervour, with peasants singing along to the tune of ‘La Marseillaise’ (indeed other French, Irish and Eastern European revolutionary anthems would be heard throughout the rest of the film). The camera style is familiar from Jancsó’s earlier work, roving around, back on itself, and in between groups, stopping to listen to individuals reading Engels, in and out of haystacks, water
vats, farm buildings, cavalry and grazing cattle. It’s a restless camera, as restless as any since Ophuls, and yet it’s groundbreaking in that editing is kept to an absolute minimum. There are only 28 shots in the entire film, which emphasises not only the genius behind his camera control, but his fastidious attention to detail and the choreography, for that is the term, of his cast of deliberately anonymous ciphers. From comparison to the litanies of Vlacil in Czechoslovakia and the majesty of Tarkovsky in Russia, Jancsó was taking cinema in a different direction in a way to rival Rossellini and Godard before him, and the style would finally reach its zenith with Sokurov’s magnificent Russian Ark three decades later. One can also see, quite clearly, the genesis of the erotic nihilism of his later, misunderstood Private Vices, Public Virtues. (more…)

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