Set in 1919, during the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Miklós Jancsó’s The Red and the White is a war film unlike any other. In the brutal Civil War which took place, Hungarian volunteers supported the ‘Red’ revolutionaries in a war of attrition against the ‘White’ counter-revolutionaries.
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The camera moves and hovers across the landscape capturing clusters of war. As much as you can see the hand of Jancso on this film....I find it entirely non self centered and most definitely non pretentious. He does not judge his characters one bit. The Impressionistic cinematography transmits like a painting rather than a 2 dimensional photograph where everything is in focus. Perfect!
The Russian Revolution is presented as a series of eerie and bloody rituals and dances, with each side temporarily gaining ground and then losing it again. Jancsó’s intricately choreographed camera movements, in wondrously long takes, draw the viewer into the confusing battles, the humiliations of capture, the senseless massacres, menacing threats, subjugation and abuse. It is a story of the divided soul of a people.
This is what happens when you let men be in charge. Unlike his other films, this one puts you right in the action. Which just adds to the chaos. "Come here. Come here. Go away. Go away." Jancso is a masterful choreographer. My favorite scene might be at the 39 minute mark when Krystyna Mikolajewska is running towards the river legs akimbo. She's like a child, innocent in this crazy game with no rules.
Form echoing content - Jancso establishing the conflict and tension between the 'Red' revolutionaries and 'White' counter-rebels with long takes and no close-ups until the denouement. The detached control parallels the ethos of the 'White' infantrymen. One of the most influential masters of film form and cinematic objectivity.