Hungarian auteur, Miklós Jancsó, made a name for himself in the mid 1960s with a loose trilogy of monochrome meditations on the corrupting nature of power. Even in these early pictures, his controlled visuals were noteworthy but in Second Run-released The Confrontation (Fényes szelek, 1969), the tone was set for the rest of his career. His first colour picture, it is a reaction to the student revolts in France in 1968, with Jancsó using his own post-war experiences to examine the underlying aims and beliefs of revolution. Whilst it’s not necessarily the easiest of watches, it is film that presents lingering ideas.
The year is 1947 and Communism now rules in Hungary. A group of youths arrive at a monastery school as envoys from the People’s College Federation. They are there to challenge the teachings of the Fathers and inspire the students with Marxist pedagogy. The earnest Laci (Lajos Balázsovits)commands the group as they sing songs and spout meaningless philosophical questions in an attempt to disrupt the running of the school and provoke discourse from the students.
When things don’t go to plan, however, control of the gang is wrestled from Laci by Jutka (Andrea Drahota), who has a significantly more militant approach. Much of what follows explores the different forms of revolutionary theory put forward by the two leaders. Laci says that “It is the revolution of democracy, decency, humanity.” When this does not prevail, however, we see Jutka claim a democratic basis for ousting Laci, before taking a more hard-line approach. In one darkly ironic moment they find themselves burning books, until it’s pointed out to Jutka that they resemble the Nazis. The way that the film ends suggests that nothing has been achieved at all, questioning whether either method really works.
The entire film is punctuated with these beautiful young people running around the monastery courtyard, or the surrounding area, singing Marxist songs and traditional Hungarian ditties. They are filmed in long roving takes that share with fellow countrymen Béla Tarr the incredible ability to feel like several different shots. The symbolic use of colour – such as Laci’s red shirt – adds to the complexity and richness of the visuals.
The Confrontation will not be for everyone and use of song and choreography does not compel on every occasion. However, with it, Jancsó has undeniably made a film which has universal and timeless themes which continue to swirl around in the mind long after the credits roll.