Thursday, June 5, 2008

Film Review: Meg ker a nep

"Meg ker a nep" *** (out of ****)

[NOTE: Miklos Jancso's 1971 film "Meg ker a nep" is a film which goes by many names. It was released in France under the title "Red Psalms" but "meg ker a nep" when translated into English is not "Red Psalms". Since the film was never released in American on DVD or VHS I am not sure what the universal title for the film is. If translated into English the film's title would be "The People Still Ask". Since I am unsure of the film's universal title, I am going to refer to it by the original Hungarian title, "meg ker a nep". I am sorry if this causes any confusion.]

Miklos Jancso's "meg ker a nep" is not so much a a film to be watched and enjoyed. It is an intellectually experience. The film is more about political ideas rather than a conventional cinematic plot. On its surface a film such as this doesn't make much sense. It is a film told by symbolism and dialogue. There is no lead characters to speak of. No character development. No hero or villain, in the traditional sense and no real conflict. And with such a description, I suspect no audience either.

"Meg ker a nep" takes us to Hungary in the 1890s. We are on a socialist commune as people sang and dance and celebrate a socialist movement. With some altercations along the way, such as military interference and capitalist.

The people are mostly working-class farmers who are tired of being exploited. They take care of their land and demand the profits. They do not feel the government should own their land.

Most of the actors in this film are unknowns. Jancso usually worked with unknowns to create a sense of realism. Though we do notice Andras Balint in the film, perhaps the best known actor involved. He has appeared in several Istvan Szabo films including his masterpieces, "Szerelmesfilm (Love Film)" and "Apa (Father)". Also in the crowd of socialist is Gyorgy Cserhalmi, who appeared in many Jancso films and Karoly Makk's "Egy erkolcsos ejszaka (A Very Moral Night)".

It is hard to describe a film such as this to an American audience unfamiliar with Jancso's work or Hungarian cinema in general. At best I can offer the comparison of Milos Foreman's "Hair". There was a film with a clear political agenda set to music. "Meg ker a nep" takes a similar approach though I wouldn't call the film a musical. But the film uses music extensively.

The film mostly consist of characters singing and dance and recite dialogue as if they were reading poetry. And that might be the best way to describe this film, poetry. As is Jancso's style the film is comprises of minimal camera movements of long unbroken scenes. Jancso was asked about his camera's fluid movement as saying "it seems to me that is a continual movement. In a procession, a demonstration, there's movement all the time, isn't there"?

Looking over this review I realize I haven't offered a very good description of what is on-screen. But how does one describe a Miklos Jancso film? Try summoning up any number of his films. Take a stab at "Szerelmem, Elektra (Electra, My Love)" which this film most closely resembles.

Made after the Hungarian uprising in 1956, Jancso I would guess is making a comment about life in Hungary after the event. One character speaks of the future. He realizes the commune will never offer immediate change, but, they persist for future generations. Life in Hungary didn't change the way most may have wanted it to after '56, but it did eventually change. Future generations have it better now than their grandparents or parents had it. The point being, people must shed blood, must sacrifice themself in order for things to change. Change message coming from a director who once made an Italian film called "The Pacifist".

"Meg ker a nep" is not going to be an easy viewing for many. They may never finish watching it. But, if you can sit through it, I feel the film's message will connect with you. You will be able to understand what Jancso has to say. The idea of freedom is not that difficult to recognize.
For additional information on Miklos Jancso I strongly recommend the following site: