Silence and Cry (1967)

2 04 2008

The last of  Miklós Jancsó’s black-and-white, cinemascope films and probably, in overall terms, my favorite film of his. It goes without saying that he makes some of the most technically accomplished films. Through all of the films I’ve managed to see from him, I’ve been amazed with his use of space, the long tracking shots, and overall just how he crafts his films in a way that is completely unique. At the same time, I find his films, all of which (with a few exceptions) focus on Hungary’s political history, to be emotionally unremarkable. There’s no denying that an aesthetic can build into something that deeply affects a person, but Jancsó’s content is so boring, for lack of a better. Despite claiming Antonioni as an influence, he seems to have no deep interest in human emotions, but in Silence and Cry, he comes pretty close.

A love triangle (or perhaps square) of some sorts taking place in post-World War I Hungary, the film tells the story of a fleeing soldier who is sheltered in a farm run by two women. The previously mentioned love triangle isn’t deeply explored and perhaps it’s a misreading on my part, but in any case, the film functions on a collection of sequences that range from poetic and heartbreaking to Herzog-esque surrealism, all relating to these relationships.

The shoddy reading on my part pretty much points to my few, minor problems with the film. Certainly this is all-around, the best film I’ve seen from Jancsó, but the narrative is still inaccessible. Michael Brooke (thankfully) makes a far more knowledgeable reading of the film on his blog but perhaps time needs to be taken to appreciate this type of brevity. As I seem to mention countless times on this site, I do indeed like plotless, slow films but I think Jancsó’s narratives fall under a different category: confusing, to make matters simple. Not in a self-consciously “surreal” type of way a la Lynch, but I feel something is missing. Not a “plot-arch” but a “character-arch.” As much as I want to praise Jancsó for his beautiful, unorthodox style, I can’t help but wanting to know something more about his characters.

With all that said, Silence and Cry tries quite admirably to correct all these faults. It’s definitely Jancsó’s most humanistic work. For once we seem to have characters that are more than just mouthpieces or visual props. In fact, there’s even a few cases of arguing and yelling! It’s to the film’s credit that it seems to be filled with some extremely touching moments. Even if they don’t completely work in context, they certainly are breathtaking outside of context. I think at this very moment, that’s generally how I feel about Jancsó. I can admire his filmmaking just by how innovative it is, even if there is nothing (from what I’ve experienced) that is fully-formed and competent enough to provide some resonance. Certainly, there was no one in 1967 doing the things he was doing. Even now, his films seem somewhat different to Angelopolous and Tarr, both of whom are usually considered his stylistic disciples. Whatever the case, he’s brilliant with the camera.

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