Cantata (1963)

13 09 2008

Essentially, this is just Jancsó trying his hardest to emulate Antonioni, which is fine by me. It actually works as a key point in Jancsó’s career as it is here where we can see how Antonioni’s influence lead him to create his own idiosyncratic style. This is not nearly as cold and methodical as Jancsó’s later films, but it does showcase his usual technical grace. As always, his camera is constantly tracking, almost to the point that it seems to have a mind of it’s own. Similarly, this style tends to overrun much of the content. While there are some nice “complicated relationship” sequences, something seems to be missing.

Even some of the most superficial aspect of Cantata resemble Antonioni’s La Notte. The film is structured in three parts. First, we are introduced to the protagonist, Dr. Ambrus Járom, a young(ish) adult comfortable with his profession. Yet, he is deeply affected by the cardial operation that takes place before him. An old professor successfully performs the procedure, but the patient stops breathing. The professor, despite being the ripe age of 70, literally pumps life back into the patient. These early sequences clearly display the birth of Jancsó’s unique cinematography. Perhaps a simple way to describe his camera’s movement is “flowing” as there is something so graceful and smooth about these tracking shots. On the other hand, there’s also some pretty nice shakycam visuals present in the operation room. This probably was just a circumstance and not a stylistic choice, but it still looks great.

The pace picks up in the second act, which is coincidently, the best thing I’ve seen from Jancsó so far. This is definitely where Antonioni’s influence begins to shine. Ambrus attends a sort of “intellectual party” with an exclusive group of friends. It is here that the passivity, alienation, and longing of Antonioni’s cinema meshes into Jancsó’s own sensibilities. Ambrus shows little interest in the activities of the group, which include the projection of a hilariously pretentious short film about dead geese. His failure to blend in leads him to Martá, perhaps the group’s only other social (and emotional) outcast. The would-be romance of two passive individuals is certainly present in many of my most favorite films, but it seems slightly disconnected from Jancsó’s cinematic world. It is probably my favorite part of any Jancsó film, but it is also the least Jancsó-esque part of any of his films, at least from a narrative point of view.

To redeem this, the film’s final act shifts tone and location, putting us in the (assumed) farm of Ambrus’ family. This is definitely the section of the film that shares the greatest resemblance to Jancsó’s later films. This is for a number of reason, an obvious one being that the farm is the exact same one in Silence and Cry. Another reason is the shift in Ambrus’ manner. There is still a sense of detatchment from the rest of the world, but it is a sense of detatchment that is different from the Antonioni sort present in the previous act. Here, we see Jancsó beginning to become, well, himself. It’s a fitting conclusion to the film and a perfect lead-in to My Way Home.

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