Filmed at the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution, The Red and the White (1967), by Hungarian filmmaker Mikós Jancsó remains a remarkable achievement in protest cinema. The action of the film takes place during 1919 and follows the story of Hungarian irregulars in the Soviet cause. Shot in an abandoned monastery and the surrounding hills and fields overlooking the Volga, bands of Tsarist White’s and Soviet Red’s evade and fight and capture and execute one another in a constant back and forth.
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Director: Miklós Janscó
Writers: Gyula Hernádi, Miklós Janscó, Luca Karall, Valeri Karen
Producers: Joe Goetz, András Németh, Kirill Sirjajev
Cinematographer: Tamás Somló
Editor: Zoltaán Farkas
Cast: Jözsef Madaras, Tibor Molnár, András Kozák, Nikta Mikhalkov
Countries: Hungary/Soviet Union
US Release: September 20, 1968
US Distributor: Kino Films
There are no named characters, and very few spoken lines. Most of the interactions involve some iteration of “Throw down your rifle, you’re a prisoner now.” There is a very exciting movement to the film. The capture and release of opponents takes on a strange tag-you’re-it-quality, with the only thing keeping a prisoner alive being the whim of an officer.
Jancsó famous for pioneering the long take, (Béla Tarr called him “The greatest Hungarian director of all time.”) orchestrates elaborate flights through the abandoned monastery; and he manages to create real suspense and payoff in its high walls and gilded sanctuaries. The actors are almost always standing and they are almost always moving somewhere. This progress, back and forth across the frame, along with the constant back and forth of fortune really defines the film. Far from any sort of logical cumulative movement, the effort of each side comes off as totally random and hollow.
It’s a very beautiful and very effecting film. In one especially menacing scene, Tsarist officers abduct nurses from a war hospital and (accompanied by a polka band) bring the women to the woods for a bacchanal.
The Red and the White is not a challenging film in the sense of Pasolini’s Salo, but it does challenge any linear or triumphalist take on war. It deserves a place in the canon of terrific war (or anti-war) films, alongside Samuel Fuller’s The Steel Helmet, Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace, and Fernando Arrabal’s Viva la Muerte. At 90 minutes, the pace is breathless, and the effect is lasting.