Category Archives: Hungarian

The Red and The White (1967)

Powerful anti-war film

In the film The Red and The White Hungarian director Miklos Jansco examines War while stripping away all rhetoric, patriotism and duty. Set in 1919 during the Russian Civil War in the Volga region, the two sides–the Reds (Bolsheviks) and the particularly demonic Whites battle for control of a monastery. When the film begins, Whites pursue a handful of Reds, and a cold, cruel slaughter takes place.

Killing is seen as meaningless sport as men are stripped and hunted while they seek safety. Has killing become so boring and mundane that it must be spiced up for variety? Insanity reigns as the battles spill over to the peasants who are just trying to mind their own business and eek out a living. The fact that all this violence takes place against a gorgeous, natural landscape just makes it more absurd and more tragic. The plot doesn’t focus on any particular characters and instead records minor skirmishes and major moral transgressions. In a sense the characters and what exactly they’re fighting for is superfluous as Individualism is subsumed by death and survival. Without a great deal of dialogue, Jancso examines War stripped of deceptive rhetoric, and what is left is ugly, cold, and meaningless.

For an anti-war film, it doesn’t get much better than The Red and The White. Jancso’s message is clear, and he deliberately leaves the viewer without characters to invest in, and without a cause to cheer for. The result is depressing carnage. In Hungarian and Russian with English subtitles.

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Colonel Redl (1985)

 “I’ve got the impression you make enemies easily.”

colonel-redlA great deal of mystery still surrounds the life of Colonel Redl (Klaus Maria Brandauer), the head of counter-intelligence in the Austro-Hungarian Empire under the aging emperor. The historical drama Colonel Redl directed by Istvan Szabo is one possible version of the events surrounding the mystery. When the film begins, Alfred Redl is a small boy of Ukrainian peasant extraction, and his family is ‘honoured’ by the emperor’s acceptance of little Redl into a strict military school. This ensures Redl’s eventual career as a military officer in the Empire, and Redl’s hellish life at school is eased by his close relationship to Kristof Kubinyi (Jan Niklas), a boy from a noble family.

The lower class Redl sticks out like a sore thumb at the school–but he has his uses, and he’s manipulated into being an informer on several occasions. Interestingly enough, the officers at the school select him for this role because as a Ukrainian peasant, he’s an outsider, but it’s Redl’s strict, twisted moral code that makes him comply. Redl has little time, interest or patience for his fellow officers’ predilection for drunken debauchery. It’s clear to the viewer–unfortunately not to Redl, however, that his strict disciplinarian approach is part of his thwarted sexuality.

Redl rises quickly in the ranks–due mainly to patronage from Colonel von Roden (Hans Christian Blech) who admires Redl’s strict approach and unquestioning loyalty to the Empire. But whereas Redl would prefer to concentrate on his military strategy skills, von Roden steers Redl’s career into bureaucratic roles. Redl is eventually promoted and placed in charge of a remote garrison near the Russian border. Unfortunately, his inflexible approach alienates him from the men and leads to a breach with Kubinyi–for whom Redl harbours a secret, repressed passion.

The Crown Prince (Armin Mueller-Stahl) recognizes Redl’s meteoric career, and creates a web of intrigue and espionage that ostensibly will return honour and discipline to the decaying, predominately noble officer class of this corrupt militaristic society. The film’s themes–class conflict and blind loyalty are subtly woven into Redl’s story, and he remains an outsider, striving always to impress. The filmmaker stresses that this is a work of fiction, and certainly the cinematic details of Redl’s life do not match the official history.

The two heavyweight actors–Armin Mueller-Stahl and Klaus Maria Brandauer deliver impeccable performances. The film’s breathtaking cinematography–snow-covered landscapes, horses racing through the forests, and the ballrooms of the wealthy elite–captures the glories of the fading, decadent Habsburg Empire just before its inevitable collapse and destruction. DVD extras include interviews with director Istvan Szabo and Klaus Maria Brandauer. In Hungarian with English subtitles.

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Filed under Hungarian, militarism, Period Piece

Kontroll (2003)

“I never thought there were worse jobs than ours.”

In the surreal world of the Budapest subway system, various misfits work as ticket inspectors. Bulcsu (Sandor Csanyi), the film’s protagonist, never leaves the underground. His diet consists of vending machine food, and he simply curls up on the station floor at night to sleep. This is his world, and during his working hours, he tries to enforce the rules in a chaotic system. The ticket inspectors are extremely unpopular with the subway passengers. Some of the passengers are confrontational with the inspectors–while others see avoiding the inspectors as a sort of game. Subject to harassment, beatings, gangs and pranksters, the inspectors maintain a bizarre subculture–and this includes “railing”–a dangerous game involving the last two trains of the night.

Filmed entirely inside the underground, the film’s visual emphasis is on the dark, sinister architecture of the subway system. Deserted platforms shudder as a passenger train rushes through. Empty endless tunnels lead off into the distance. The film’s vague and loosely structured plot involves a series of jumpers–people who commit suicide by jumping on the tracks. Kontroll is unusual–no argument there–it’s a hybrid mix of suspense, action, and romance blended into the surreal world of the underground. Kontroll is director Nimrod Antal’s first film, and his unique creative energies may well thrive in the horror genre in future films. In Hungarian with English subtitles.

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