Filmmaker Miklós Jancsó helped share Hungarian cultureWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
Influential Hungarian filmmaker Miklós Jancsó died Jan. 31 at the age of 92.
During the 1960s, Jancsó, along with István Szabó, Károly Makk and Márta Mészáros, to whom Jancsó was at one time married, became part of what was known as the “Hungarian New Wave” in America.
These filmmakers were not only exploring the technical aspects of cinema but were introducing outsiders to Hungary. People who normally would know nothing about the culture of Hungary were now seeing what Hungarians looked like, how they spoke and most importantly, learning about the history of the country.
Jancsó’s films largely revolve around politics during historical times. His major works do not take place in modern day Hungary. Critics and viewers usually interpret Jancsó’s films as using historical moments — such as the 1848 revolt against Austria as Hungarians tried to break ties with the country as seen in the film “The Round Up” (“Szegenylegenyek”) — as really being commentaries on communism and the uprising in 1956.
There may be some truth to that. Watch his crowning achievement, “The Red & The White” (“Csillagosok, katonak”), one of the most important films in Hungarian cinema, which was filmed 11 years after the revolt and in the Soviet Union. It involves a conflict between the Soviets and the Hungarians. How could such a film not invoke memories of ’56?
Jancsó was also known for his long steady shots. His films are usually not told from any particular character’s point of view. He liked long shots for this reason. The viewer takes in the whole picture. In many of his films, you don’t even know all the characters’ names.
Once asked to describe his films, Jancsó said they were “an exploration of the state of society in which some people always try to exploit others. Even if they come from the oppressed classes themselves, once they get into power they change and try to oppress other people.”
What made Jancsó’s films so important to someone like me was I never knew much about Hungary’s history. I heard the stories from my grandparents and my parents about what life was like under communism and the importance of ’56, but it wasn’t until I watched Jancsó’s films that I started to appreciate what my family and other Hungarians went through. Watching these films I realized I was watching films made by a man who had a love for the country and wanted others to know about its history. That’s what makes films so special — their ability to teach us about other cultures and expand our horizon of the world around us.
Five of his films were nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, among them “Elektra My Love” (“Szerelmem, Elektra”) and “The People Still Ask” (“Meg ker a nep”), for which he also won the best director prize that year. He also received a lifetime award in 1994 at the Budapest Film Festival.
His influence was also seen in the work of another brilliant Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, who sadly has announced he is retiring from filmmaking.
Jancsó is suvived by his third wife, Zsuzsa Csakany, and his four children.
The world of cinema mourns the passing of one of its great filmmakers.
Alex Udvary is a Chicago based freelance movie critic and commentor. His work can be read at alex-udvary.blogspot.com.
Tags: Bela Tarr, Budapest Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Csillagosok, Elektra, Elektra My Love, Istvan Szabo, Karoly Makk, katonak, Martha Meszaros, Meg ker a nep, Miklos Jancso, Palme d’Or, Szegenylegenyek, Szerelmem, The People Still Ask, The Red & The White, The Round Up, Zsuzsa Csakany