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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
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
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
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
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 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
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)
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