In Memoriam         

Miklos Jancso

Miklos JancsoMiklos Jancso

At the 1966 Cannes film festival, a movie whose title sounded like a western – but was actually Hungarian – caused a sensation and launched its director into the international cinematic scene, where he was to remain for a decade. The film of hypnotic beauty and daring technique was The Round-Up (Szegénylegények) and the director was Miklós Jancsó, who has died aged 92.

Jancsó's highly personal style had blossomed in this, his fifth feature. The Round-Up is set on a bleak Hungarian plain in 1868, when Austro Hungarian troops tried to break the unity of the Hungarian partisans by torture, interrogations and killings. There is little dialogue as horsemen drive the people to and fro, with power continually changing hands. Jancsó's ritualistic style manages to make the particular Hungarian situation into a universal parable of evil, ending with a cry of hope.

There are few directors so akin to a choreographer. His cinema does not conform to narrative or psychological conventions, but opens other areas that are usually found in the screen musical. His films are elaborate ballets, emblematically tracing the movements in the fight for Hungarian independence and socialism. In these ritual dances of life and death the Whites defeat the Reds, the Reds defeat the Whites. Tyranny is everywhere, and men and women, stripped of their clothes, are vulnerable and humiliated – nudes in a landscape. People survive in groups, often singing and dancing. Sometimes the groups split up and realign, moving in different directions. The camera weaves in and out like an invisible observer, sometimes dancing with the people, sometimes following them across the plains, tracking them down, shooting them. A tracking shot takes on new meaning in Jancsó's films.

Ronald Bergan