The Round-Up (1966)

25 06 2008

More of the same from Miklós Jancsó. That is to say, an exquisitely crafted film that never rises above its all too simple premise. While it is captivating to watch his camera float around and observe fantastic and bizarre events, it never goes beyond being just a textbook example of how to make a film. In all of his films, Jancsó shows a complete understanding of the mechanical aspects of filmmaking. He knows how to elaborately stage layers and layers of events in a frame, as well as how to observe these events without a sign of intrusion. But still, this seems like nothing more that just an opportunity to make other filmmakers drool with envy.

As it almost always is with Jancsó, the narrative is built around a (relatively) obscure event in Hungarian history. Unlike his other films, this one attempts to give a a little exposition before diving head-first into a situation that most viewers (myself included) are unfamiliar with. A (Hungarian) national movement lead by Kossuth has been defeated and the Austrian government has taken over. The army rounds up a group of suspects and placing them in a secluded fort at the hope that the guerrillas will break down and confess. Essentially, it just turns in to a “witch hunt / paranoia” type of story.

I’ll give Jancsó some credit for attempting to explain the usual historical specifics that make up the content for most of his films. The very straight-forward style of exposition is sort of irritating as well as conventional, but in this case, it is legitimately helpful. In my opinion, it seems important for one to worry as little as possible about what exactly is going on Jancsó’s films and instead, focus primarily on the ravishing cinematography, which I’ll praise to the heavens in a moment here. The narrative, to no surprise, consists of very little emotional involvement. This is clearly the intention as the story follows a rather unpredictable route in establishing characters, and then disposing of them. This fickle sensibility does keep things interesting for awhile, but never enhances the characters beyond chess pieces.

For all the shortcomings, though, one cannot deny the confident compitence with which the film is crafted. Yes, the characters are still just chess piece that Jancsó moves according to his interests but he does so in the most elegant of fashions. As a purely visual experience, it is extraordinary. Personally, I cannot think of any other film in which cinema scope is used so expertly. There’s always little things going on in the background or to the sides, which provides more proof of Jancsó’s clear knowledge of the medium in general. Still, it is hard to not want something more personal out of such an accomplished filmmaker.

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