Miklos Jancso’s “The Red and the White” is a celebrated piece of Eastern European cinema. For people living in the U.S.S.R. at the time, it must have made quite an impression as it offers an alternative to what the communist regime was offering. For many Americans and other westerners, it gives us a glimpse into the perspective of people who actually live in or next door to the actions of the U.S.S.R. The movie hits close to home as it deals with the birth of the Soviet Nation at the heart of the Russian civil war between the Bolsheviks and the Tsarist whites.
The movie starts out with a group of armed men near the Volga river running and shooting into the unseen distance. One man hides in the bushes while another man peculiarily jumps into the river and the onto the other side of it only to jump back in upon seeing the enemy. The man is then carelessly and unapologetically shot and dies in the river. What is unique about this film is the stylization of the film. I say this because there is a certain aesthetic distance that is communicated in the shots. When the man is shot, never once do you hear sad dramatic non-diegetic soundtrack, nor do you see the man’s partner break down in tears, nor is there even a closeup of the man who has died. Lazslo Strausz asks the question in his analysis of the film, “…why does the filmmaker seem so cold, uninterested in the fates of these characters?” (Strausz 41). Jancso’s style in the film is akin to the playwright Bertolt Brecht’s style of theatre. Brecht sought to make political statements through his plays but relied solely on a “Verfremdungseffekt” or “alienation effect” to prevent his audience from reaching a catharsis and thus leave the theatre thinking and angry. Jancso’s employs the very same method as his “video game-like” portrayal of the running men being shot leaves us thinking, “These men were shot and not an ounce of dramatic justice nor respects or paid to the men who died”. Surely it will leave the audience politically charged.
Strasz, Laszlo. “The Politics of Style in Miklos Jancso’s The Red and the White and The Lord’s Tavern in Budapest.” Film Quarterly Spring 2009.