Meg Ker a Nep

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(Red Psalm)

Hungary, 1971

Director: Miklos Jancso

Production: Mafilm Studio; Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 88 minutes; length: 7920 feet. Released 1971, Hungary. Filmed 1971.

Screenplay: Gyula Hernádi; photography: János Kende; editor: Zoltán Farkas; art director: Tamás Banovich; musical arrangements: Ferenc Sebo; choreography: Ferenc Pesovár.

Cast: Lajos Balázsovits (Officer Cadet); András Bálint (Count); Gyöngyi Bürös (Young peasant woman); Andrea Drahota (Militant girl); József Madoras; Tibor Molnár; Tibor Orbán; Bertalan Solti.

Award: Cannes Film Festival, Best Director, 1972.



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* * *

Of all of his films, Meg ker a nep perhaps best exemplifies the stylistic hallmarks with which Miklós Jancsó is most often associated: long takes (frequently 5 to 8 minutes in length), a constantly moving camera which weaves in and out of groups of moving figures, and an array of visual metaphors and exotic images rooted in Hungarian folklore and his own personal mythology.

On its most simple level, Meg ker a nep is set in Hungary in the 1890s and presents the emergence of agrarian socialist movements— but Jancsó isn't interested in a realistic depiction of isolated historical events. Through his unconventional cinematic style, Jancsó creates a "ritualistic portrayal of revolution" which takes on universal significance, and the success of the film derives from the manner in which its form becomes its content.

For Jancsó, "one can imagine a film other than in the form of a story. We must try to widen the limits of expression." With his reduction of the primacy of narrative, Jancsó also diminishes depth of characterization, the importance of individual action, and complex psychological explanations of behavior. In spite of these simplifications, Jancsó claims that his films are still "a means of expression with several dimensions." His undercutting of an audience's emotional identification with characters and situations creates, in his mind, "active" viewers and "makes [them] think"—and presumably take action at a later time.

If, in Meg ker a nep, Jancsó reduces traditional cinematic elements to a minimum, his style creates a heightened sense of the importance of movement, both in aesthetic and ideological terms. "It seems to me that life is a continual movement. In a procession, a demonstration, there's movement all the time, isn't there? It's physical and it's also philosophical: the contradiction is founded on movement, the movement of ideas, the movement of the masses. A man also is always surrounded, threatened by oppression: the camera movements I create suggest that too." In Meg ker a nep, the complex interweaving of the moving camera with the carefully choreographed groups of soldiers, horsemen, and villagers reflects the ideological conflicts central to the film. The long takes and the examples of nearly invisible editing allow the spectator to concentrate on non-verbal devices to understand the unfolding action. For example, foreground activity becomes background activity only to return minutes later to the foreground of the screen as a manifestation of the continual shifting nature of power. Geometric shapes (most notably vertical lines and circles) are also in constant conflict and in constant movement, and the shifting fortunes of ideological struggles are also indicated in the clash of various types of music in the film.

Music is especially important in Meg ker a nep; the narrative action is delineated as much by music and song as by the film's rather abstract, depersonalized dialogue. Beyond that, music universalizes the film's theme. Aside from Hungarian folk songs that tell of the events depicted in the film and the repetition of a key song in multiple contexts, Jancsó's music, which includes the Scottish ballad "Charlie Is My Darling" and the French "Marseillaise," suggests that all revolutions are part of one continuing revolution.

Miklós Jancsó, like Sergei Eisenstein and Sergei Paradzhanov, is a master of synesthesia, a director who fuses multiple art forms to create in film the perfect medium for Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk. Meg ker a nep, which won the "Best Director" award at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, is perhaps Jancsó's best example of "fusion of the arts" and has been justly praised as Jancsó's best film by critics John Russell Taylor and Roy Armes.

—Joseph A. Gomez