The Red and The White, is a 1967 film by Miklos Jancso.Jancso was noted for his innovative camera work. In this film, I especially enjoyed the wide-set camera angles and views. To be able to see a broad landscape was especially powerful in this setting, to show the vastness of the landscape this war was taking place in.
Leonard Quart, in an entertainment review, published during the dvd release of The Red and The White, stated, “It’s a film whose long takes, detached eroticism, choreographed movements, and absence of individual characterization stunned me when I first saw it.” (1) For me, I had an opposite reaction. I, personally, enjoyed the lack of detailed plot and storyline. I enjoyed the fact that we were following the general events of the subject matter. This is a very different form of storyline then, say, what we would be used to in mainstream American film-making today. I felt this style allowed the film to feel more realistic, as if we were a ‘fly on the wall’, watching the various events as they took place.
For a movie of it’s time, I did notice how the camera would glide all around a scene, to a frow, without cuts or shakiness. This seemed a bit amazing to me, especially the outdoor scenes that were shot like this…
One example is when the nurse and the man she loved were outside together. Some military men are approaching from the distance and she tells her lover to hide. The camera follows her out as she walks toward the water, and a military man approaches her from horseback. As she is walking, the camera is holding this shot and semi-following her from a distance as she continues to walk off into the water. These sort of following/gliding shots almost added an element of elegance to a film with such gruesome subject matter.
In one of the final scenes, there is a small group of men marching forward toward a larger group on the horizon. This scene was especially visually striking for a wide-set shot. The shot was steady, for the most part, but still very prominent. Even though it was a landscape scene, you can feel the enormity of what is about to happen, as well as notice the individuals lined up, life in hand.
Jansco was also commited to political criticism. In this film, there are many ways in which he does this. In The Red and the White, Jancso shows the portrayal of various powers attacking each other. There are scenes of military men on either side of the coin, being seized and murdered. Then, he shows the other side doing the same. To me this portrayed a little bit of evenness in outlook. Perhaps this was to emphasize a general distaste for war, and the nature of it as a whole, rather then to show which side is right or wrong.
Both sides, the Reds and the Whites, each have their own cause for doing what they are doing in this fight, yet both sides act and behave strangely and almost hauntingly similar. To me this is a new way of looking at a war via film. There is no overly evident right or wrong side. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? It is not entirely obvious which side the story wants us to be on.
In the end, not much is nearly settled, but many different lives throughout the film are lost, needlessly.
Jansco liked to explore the dynamic between powerful figures and the ordinary man, or the powerless. In this film, there are many examples of this as well. The scenes were military men fought or captured other military men, depicted a statement of powerful vs. powerless at the moment. This was usually determined by being outnumbered, or who was armed.
In other scenes, military men used their power over their prisoners. In many cases the prisoners do exactly what they are told, without question or fight. In some of the most drastic powerful vs. powerless statement, military men use their power over civilians to torment and harm them for no real purpose but personal pleasure and ego.
One interesting scene took place when one group of militia let a large amount of men ‘free’. They are told to run, they have fifteen minutes to get away. They all run and try their best, but there are many roadblocks trapping them from truly freeing. There were a few who fought back and made their way away from the grounds. There was one man who hit a military man, knocking him off his horse. He then used the military man’s own gun to knock him out. The prisoner took the military man’s horse and fled. Eventually he made it to the outter wall, jumped it and was free. Here is an example of a ‘powerless’ man breaking free from his powerless state by combating those that are powerful. With great force, this man made it through. He was one of the few from this large group to overtake the powerful and defy the rule.
An important point to note, although Milkos Jancso liked to discuss political topics in his films, he remained vague as to the details of the events in his pieces. There are some theories as to why this is. “… Jancsó’s use of historical period is often incidental and there is usually little effort to expand on background to the era being represented. This has given Jancsó a reputation of being a difficult film-maker… For Jancsó … this lack of filling-in merely indicates that the director thinks it is broadly speaking irrelevant and he would rather we turned our attention to more general themes within the action.” (2) This is a quality I actually appreciated very much while watching The Red and The White.
(1) Cineaste; Summer2008, Vol. 33 Issue 3, p73-73, 1/5p
via Queens College Database ‘Film & Television Literature Index’
(2) Horton, Andrew James. “The Aura of History: The Depiction of the year 1919 in the Films of Miklos Jancso.” Kinoeye: New Perspectives on European Film. (2011): Print.