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Miklós Jancsó (1921-2014)

 

Hungarian director, whose most famous works include The Round-Up (1965), a merciless examination of political oppression, The Red and the White (1967), set in Russia during the civil war of 1918, and Red Psalm (1972), called a communist musical. Jancsós developed his distinctive style, characterized by extended sequence shots and constantly moving camera, in the 1960s. His central themes are the mechanism of terror and the conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed.

"In cannot stand violence, especially in society, and I cannot stand oppression . . . this is really my reason for making films." (Janscó in World Cinema: Hungary by Bryan Burns, 1996)

Miklós Jancsó was born in the town of Vác, famous for its old prison and churches. Jancsó's father was a Transylvanian, whereas his mother's family came from Romania. Originally Jancsó wanted to become a stage director, but because there was no institution of higher education of this kind in Hungary, he studied law and also ethnography and art history at the University of Kolozsvár (now Cluj in Romania) and eventually gained a doctor-of-law degree in 1944.

The Nazi Germany occupied Hungary in 1944. The country was then overrun by the Red Army, and Jancsó spent some time as a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union. After working as an assistant lawyer and doing ethnological research in Transylvania, Jancsó entered the Budapest's Academy of Dramatic and Film Art, graduating in 1951. His teachers included the famous film critic and screenwriter Béla Balázs (1884-1949).

Before his first feature film, A harangok Rómában mentek (1958), Jancsó made newsreels and short films. His subjects varied from the "teachings of a Soviet agricultural deputation" to isotopes in medical science. "All the newsreels we made were fiction anyway," Jancsó said later in an interview, "they were lies and I always knew they were lies". However, Jancsó remained a member of the Communist party, which he left in 1956.

In 1957 Jancsó shot documentaries in China. He directed also at the "25th" theatre in Budapest. In 1956, the year of the Hungarian uprising against the Communist government, Jancsó made a film on the historical novelist and short story writer Zgismond Móricz (1879-1942), a supporter of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919.

Cantata (1963), Jancsó's second feature film, received the Hungarian Critics' Prize. In this work, influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni, Jancsó created the unique visual style by which he became known – the mesmerizing, sweeping, ballet-like camera movement, which emphasize the relation between the characters and the landscape, the vast Hungarian plain, around them. In considering the latter aspect, Jancsó's cinematic world has connections with the traditional western, although not on the ideological level. Usually, in Antonioni's early films, the camera do not move independently of the characters. 

There are no long dialogues in Jancsó's  films; human relatioships are broken and his characters are disconnected from their environment. Jancsó preferred post-production dubbing; on location he constantly gave directions, talking through the scene. Movement is the unifying force– it is for Jancsó both a guiding philosophical and aesthetical principle – "Is seems to me that life is a continual movement," he once summarized. "It's physical and it's also philosophical: the contradiction is founded on movement, the movement of ideas, the movement of masses."

Jancsó's approach differed radically from Eisenstein's theory of montage editing, in which duration has only a marginal importance. In Jancsó, a shot lasts as long as it would "in reality". Thus the time of the film and that of the action become synchronous – as in theatre, the audience experiences the time as the characters in the drama.

In Cantata, photographed by Tamás Somló, Jancsó used only 12 or 13 camera setups. The film was shot in 11 days. From 1965 Jancso's favorite cinematographer was János Kende, who was not opposed to doing 360-turns with camera. Other regular collaborators have been the novelist Gyula Hernádi, who started to write scripts for Jancsó in the early 1960s, and the actors József Madaras and Lajos Balázsovits. The director and screenwriter, and his long time partner, Giovanna Gagliardo, co-wrote several of his films,  La pacifista (1970, The Pacifist), set in modern-day Rome, La tecnica e il rito  (1971, Technique and Rite), a historical film about Attila, Roma rivuole Cesare (1974, Rome Wants Another Caesar), set in North Africa after the assassination of Julius Caesar, and others. With her he also published the screenplay Vizi privati pubbliche virtú (1976, Private Vices, Public Virtues), about Rudolf, the Crown Prince of Austria. After separating from Gagliardo, Jancsó married the film editor Zsuzsa Csákány,who became one of his regular editors. Jancsó had earlier co-operated with her in Hungarian Rhapsody (1979) and Allegro Barbaro (1979). These films were the first two parts of the intended trilogy, called Vitam et sanguinem, but the third part, Concerto, was never shot. 

In the 1960s, Janscó explored almost obsessively the history of his  country. International fame he gained with his epic trilogy, The Round-Up, The Red and the White, and Silence and Cry (1967). The Round-Up was a historical film examining the 1848 Revolution against Austrian oppression. Gyula Hernádi's allegorical story was about the interrogation of a group of rebel prisoners who are at the end betrayed. In spite of political pressures, the thinly-veiled criticism of Stalinism was produced by Studio IV, Mafilm, the Hungarian state production agency.

In The Red and the White the Red soldiers and the White Guards slaughter each other and civilians alike around a monastery on the Volga. The film ends in the massacre of the revolutionaries, who sing the Marseillaise, not the Internationale. Originally The Red and the White was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October revolution but in the Soviet Union the film was heavily censored. Red Psalm was a poetic, disillusioned story about a peasant uprising in Hungary during the 1890s, in which dance and music, ranging from folk songs to 'Charlie is My Darlin,' express eternal yearning for freedom. The film performed poorly at the box office in Hungary but at Cannes it won Jancsó the Best Director prize.

The Confrontation (1968), made in the year of student unrests and the Prague Spring, dealt with a power game between Marxists people's college activists and Catholic students and showed how collectivist ideals can develop into an intermediate stage of Stalinism – an Orwellian, recurrent theme in Jancsó's films. Both Jancsó and his scripwriter Gyula Hernádi had attended a Catholic school and had been members of the NÉKOSZ, a movement to establish people's colleges. The structure of the film is circular; it ends with a picture of the same road and the same character from which it started, suggesting that nothing was learned during the revolutionary process of "making history". The Confrontation received a mixed reception in Hungary.

In the early 1970s, Jancsó made in Italy four films, mostly ignored by critics. Vizi privati, pubbliche virtú, an Italian-Yugoslav production, earned a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes. It became one of Jancsó's most widely shown films in the West, partly because of its erotic scenes. However, nude women had been part of Jancsó's cinematic vocabulary from the 1960, as well as white-shirted young men, uniforms, candles, doves, people in circular lines, and horses and horsemen. In 1979 Jancsó was awarded the Prize for his Life's Work at Cannes.

The Dawn (1986), inspired by Elie Wiesel's novel, was also an international production. Due to Jancsó's method of filming, a combination of improvisation and formalistic visual style, he had rarely used novels or short stories as as a starting point. Other exceptions include Cantata, based on József Lengyel's short story, Elektreia (1975), based on László Gyurkó's play from the Electra myth, and "Faustus doktor boldogságos pokoljárása" (1982), from László's novel. Elektreia ends to the words, "Blessed is your name – revolution!" 

Though Janscó was committed to Marxism, he was the first major Hungarian director, who broke the code of self-censorship, which Eastern European creative artists applied to avoid administrative sanctions. Besides making films, Jancsó worked in the 1970s and 1980s as a theatre director. In 1986 he was appointed president of the Hungarian Film and TV Artists' Association. Although he was never very fond of teaching, he taught between 1990 and 1992 at Harvard University.  In 1994 Jancsó became the president of the Széchenyi Academy of Literature and Arts.

The Lord's Lantern In Budapest (1998) was the first in a series of satirical comedies, in which the central characters are Pepe and Kapa, two entrepreneuring grave-diggers in a Pest cemetery. The film received the Gene Moskowitz prize from foreign critics at the 30th Annual Hungarian Film Week festival in 1999. Last Supper at the Arabian Grey Horse (2000) was shot in 11 days on a very tight budget. Janscó late comedies, as well as his international co-productions, have remained relatively unknown in the English-speaking world. 

Jancsó's first wife was Katalin Wowesznyi; they had two children. After divorce he married in 1958 Márta Mészáros, also a renowned director. Their sons, Nyika Jancsó and Miklós Jancsó, Jr., became cameramen. Mészáros, born in Budapest, studied in Moscow at the VGIK film school and then worked at the Budapest newsreel studios. In the 1960s, she joined the Mafilm Group 4 film unit, where she met Jancsó. Despite her association with Jancsó, she never imitated her visual style during her most creative period After their divorce in 1973, she married the Polish actor Jan Nowicki, who appeared in most of her 1980s films. Mészáros's awarded films include Adoption (1975, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and Diary for My Children (1984), which was the winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

Jancsó was a supporter of the Alliance of Free Democrats - Hungarian Liberal Party, SZDSZ, founded in 1988. Many of its activists were members of the Budapest dissident community. He also supported legalizing marijuana. Jancsó died of lung cancer on January 31, 2014, in Budapest. 

For further reading: The Liberty of Cinema: The International (Co-) Productions of Miklós Jancsó, ed. by Filmkollektiv Frankfurt (2015); Hungarian Cinema: From Coffee House to Multiplex by John Cunningham (2004); The BFI Companion to Eastern European and Russian Cinema, ed. by Richard Taylor et al. (2000); World Cinema: Hungary by Bryan Burns (1996); The Film Encyclopedia by Ephrain Katz (1994); 'Space in The Confrontation' by David Bordwell, in Narration in the Fiction Film (1985); History Must Answer To Man: The Contemporary Hungarian Cinema by Graham Petrie (1978); Hiljaisuus ja huuto: Unkarilainen elokuva tänään by Markku Tuuli (1978); Miklós Jancsó by Yvette Bird (1977); Directors and Directions by John Taylor (1975); Miklós Janscó by Giovanni Buttafa (1974); 'Jancsó Country: Miklós Jancsó and the Hungarian New Cinema' by Lorant Czigany, in Film Quaterly, Fall (1972); 'Quite Apart from Miklós Jancsó' by David Robinson, in Sight and Sound, Spring (1970)

Selected works / books:

  • La Pacifista, 1971 (screenplay) 
  • Vizi privati pubbliche virtú, 1976 (screenplay, with Giovanna Gagliardo)
  • Vitam et sanguinem, 1978 (screenplay, with Gyula Hernádi)
  • Játék az élettel: novellák, elbeszélések, 1997

Films:

  • A Harangok Rómába mentek / The Bells Have Gone to Rome, 1958 (starring Miklós Gábor, Ferenc Deák B., Vilmos Mendelényi)
  • Szerkezettervezes, 1959 (written by Jancsó, directed by Márta Mészáros)
  • Három csillag / Three Starts, 1960 (first episode, starring Éva Ruttkai, Miklós Gábor, Lajos Básti)
  • Oldás és kötés / Cantata, 1963 (starring Zoltán Latinovits, Andor Ajtay, Béla Barsi, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi and M. Jancsó)
  • Így jöttem / My Way Home, 1964 (starring Béla Barsi, Jurij Bodovszkij, Viktor Csekmarev, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi, Imre Vadász)
  • Szegénylegények / The Round-Up, 1965 (starring János Görbe, Zoltán Latinovits, Tibor Molnár, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi)
  • Csillagosok, katonák / The Red and the White, 1967 (starring Andras Kozak, Tibor Molnar, Krystyna Mikolajewska, Mikhail Kozakov, József Madaras, Tatyana Konyukhova, Jacint Juhasz, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi)
  • Csend és kiáltás / Silence and Cry, 1967 (starring Mari Töröcsik, Andrea Drahota, Andras Kozak, Zoltan Latinovits, Jozsef Madaras, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi)
  • Fényes szelek / The Confrontation / Sparkling Winds, 1968 (starring Andras Kozak, Lajos Balázsovits, Andrea Drahota)
  • Sirocco D'Hiver / Winter Wind, 1969 (starring Jacques Charrier, Marina Vlady, József Madaras, Istvan Bujtor, Eva Swann, screenplay by Gyula Hernadi and M. Jancsó
  • Égi bárány / Agnus Dei, 1970 (starring Anna Széles, Márk Zala, Daniel Olbrychski, József Madaras, Lajos Balázsovits, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi, M. Jancsó)
  • La pacifista / The Pacifist, 1970 (starring Monica Vitti, Pierre Clémenti, Peter Pasetti, screenplay by Giovanna Gagliardo, Gyula Hernádi, M. Jancsó, Guido Leoni)
  • Il giovane Attila / Young Attila, 1971 (starring Jószef Madaras)
  • La tecnica e il rito / The Technique and the Rite, 1971 (starring József Madaras, Adalberto Maria Merli, Brizio Montinaro, screenplay by Giovanna Gagliardo, Gyula Hernádi, M. Jancsó)
  • Még kér a nép / Red Psalm, 1972 (starring Lajos Balázsovits, András Bálint, Gyöngyi Bürös, Andrea Drahota, József Madaros, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi)
  • Roma rivuole Cesare / Rome Wants Another Caesar, 1974 (starring Deniel Olbrychsky, Hiram Keller, Lino Troisi, Gino Lavagetto)
  • Vizi Privati, Pubbliche Virtů / Private Vices, Public Virtues, 1975 (starring Laura Betti, Lajos Balázsovits, Pamela Villoresi, Teresa Ann Savoy, Franco Branciaroli)
  • Szerelmem, Elektra / Elektreia / Electra, My Love, 1975 (starring Mari Töröcsik, György Cserhalmi, Lajos Balázsovits, József Madaras, screenplay from László Gyurkó's play by L. Gyurko, Gyula Hernádi, and M. Jancsó)
  • Élwtünket és vérünket: Magyar rapszódia I. / Hungarian Rhapsody, 1978
  • Allegro Barbaro: Magyar rapszódia II. / Allegro Barbaro, 1978 (starring György Cserhalmi, Gabor Koncz, Bertalan Solti, Lajos Balázsovits, József Madaras)
  • A zsarnok szíve, avagy Boccaccio Magyarországon / The Tyrant's Heart or Boccaccio in Hungary, 1981 (starring Ninetto Davoli, Laszlo Galffi, Teresa Ann Savoy, József Madaras, Laszlo Markus)
  • "Faustus doktor boldogságos pokoljárása", 1982 (starring András Kozák, Lajos Balázsovits, Ildikó Bánsági, Judit Halász, based on a novel by László Gyurkó)
  • Muzsika, 1984
  • Omega, Omega..., 1985 (starring László Benkö)
  • Hajnal / L'Aube / The Dawn, 1986 (staring Serge Avedikian, Christine Boisson, Philippe Léotard, Michael York, Redjep Mitrovitsa, based on a book by Elie Wiesel)
  • Szörnyek évadja / The Monsters' Season, 1987 (starring Jozsef Madaras, György Cserhalmi, Ferenc Kallai, Júlia Nyakó, Katarzyna Figura, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi)
  • Jézus Krisztus horoszkópja / Jesus Christ's Horoscope, 1988 (starring Juli Básti, Ildikó Bánsági, György Cserhalmi, Dorottya Udvaros, Andras Balint, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi, M. Jancsó)
  • Isten hátrafelé megy / God Goes Backwards, 1990 (starring Károly Eperjes, György Dörner, József Madaras, Attila Kaszás, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi, M. Jancsó)
  • Kék Duna keringo / Blue Danube Waltz, 1992 (starring György Cserhalmi, ldikó Bánsági, József Madaras, Dorottya Udvaros, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi, M. Jancsó)
  • A nagy agyhalál / The Great Braindeath, in Szeressük egymást gyerekek! / Love Each Other, 1996 (episodical feature with Pal Sandor, Karoly Makk)
  • Nekem lámpást adott kezembe az Úr Pesten / The Lord's Lantern In Budapest, 1998 (starring Zoltán Mucsi, Péter Scherrer, Emese Vasvári, József Szarvas)
  • Anyád! A szunyogok / Damn You! Mosquito, 2000 (starring Miklós B. Szekely, Zoltán Mucsi, Peter Scherrer, Emese Vasvári, screenplay by M. Jancsó, Gyula Hernádi, Ferenc Grunwalsky )
  • Utolsó vacsora az Arabs Szürkénél / Last Supper at the Arabian Grey Horse, 2000 (starring Zoltan Mucsi, József Szarvas, Eniko Borcsok, Péter Scherrer, Emese Vasvári, screenplay by Ferenc Grunwalsky
    Gyula Hernádi, M. Jancsó)
  • Kelj fel, komán, ne aludjál / Wake Up, Mate, Don't You Sleep, 2003 (starring Ildiko Toth, Zoltán Mucsi, Peter Scherer, M. Jancsó, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi, Miklós Jancsó)
  • A mohácsi vész / The Battle of Mohacs, 2003 (starring Gyula Bodrogi, Galkó Balázs, Péter Halász, Attila Rácz, Zoltán Mucsi, Emese Vasvári, Judit Schell, Péter Scherer, screenplay by M. Jancsó, Ferenc Grunwalsky, Gyula Hernádi)
  • Európából Európába, 2004 (documentary; with others)
  • Ede megevé ebédem István Márton, 2006 (starring Zoltán Mucsi, Péter Scherer, Lajos Balázsovits, screenplay by Gyula Hernádi, Miklós Jancsó)
  • Oda az igazság, 2010 (with István Márton; starring Daniel Olbrychski, Zoltán Mucsi, Kornél Mundruczó, screenplay by M. Jancsó)
  • Magyarország 2011, 2014 (with others)


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