Emory played this for us on 35mm, introduced by poet and politician Gyula Kodolányi who watched it in Hungary during its opening run… and this is the night after I saw a perfect print of The Age of Innocence introduced by Salman Rushdie. If their film screenings are about to stop, as has been rumored, at least they’re going out on top.
Scary movie. First 90ish minutes I’m wondering “where are they going with this”, then it all comes together in the last five. Set in the 1860’s but meant to illustrate and refer to interrogation techniques of the 1960’s (surprised he got away with it). Stark black-and-white, artfully composed in widescreen, with long-ish shots (nothing over a couple minutes), set at a prison out on the plains and a few surrounding buildings.
A hundred or more prisoners are being held together, a few in solitary covered with hoods and the rest in a large courtyard, but the guards don’t know whether they’ve captured the rebel leader and which of the prisoners are his horsemen. Threat of execution turns one prisonder, a pointy-hatted murderer, into a not-so-covert inside agent for the jailers. Guards capture a local woman and torture her to death in view of the prisoners, provoking suicides. Ultimately the jailers succeed through some twisty psych tricks into getting two elder rebel soldiers to identify themselves. A competition is staged, and the winner gets to select a troop of men to leave prison and join him. It’s announced that the rebel leader has been granted amnesty, and the new troops all cheer. The guards, now having identified the rebels, descend upon them with hoods…
In the concise (20-minute) but revealing interview included by Second Run with The Round-Up, Jancsó pauses to explain the larger context intended by these films, that is, how they were meant to universalize human cruelty beyond apparent, coded references to the then recent 1956 Soviet action. Speaking carefully and succinctly, Jancsó offers two themes: “the humiliation by the powerful” and “the defenselessness of the people.”