WHO is he?

Hungarian screenwriter and film director who made over 80 fictional features, documentaries and short films in a six-decade-long career between the 1950s and the 2000s. Jancsó started his career making newsreels for the state before moving on to fiction. He won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972 for the experimental “musical” Red Psalm. Jancsó passed away last week at the age of 92.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Jancsó’s cinema directly engages with the crucial events of Hungarian history and presents them in all their cruelty and expansiveness. They portray how individual identities get diluted, dispersed and lost in the tectonic movement of History. These films do not have protagonists, at least in the conventional sense, and disseminate the narrative through many equally unimportant characters, as though demonstrating the essentially anti-personal nature of historical events. As corollary, they also show how, in wartime, a flimsy identity, label (or a lack of it) decides a man’s ultimate fate.

Style

The most manifest aspect of Jancsó’s strongly visual cinema is the predominance of camera movement. These films are elaborately cinematographed and are marked by lengthy, complex tracking shots that chart vast swathes of space and utilise the depth of represented space to extraordinary effect. The image composition is remarkably geometrical and bases itself on the geometric quality of buildings and crowd formations, whose movements and interactions result in striking visual patterns and subordinate the human figure to constructs larger than itself.

WHY is he of interest?

Jancsó has been considered by some to be the most important Hungarian filmmaker of all time and the quality of his work certainly justifies that lofty view. Jansco’s cinema is not only important for its formal discipline and rigour, but also its anti-Humanist approach to narrative that avoids the easy answers provided by uncritical humanist cinema. Both these aspects bear an unmistakable influence on the work of Béla Tarr, one of the most important directors of current day.

WHERE to discover him?

The aesthetically daring The Round Up (1965) is set in the middle of the 19th century and revolves around a large-scale interrogation camp set up with the intention of culling out insurgents. Underscored by shifting of identities, transfer of blame and metamorphosing of perspectives, the film depicts the porosity of identity and difficulty of loyalty and trust in times of deep crises.