The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Apparently The Round-up’s being set in the past sufficiently masked its contemporary relevance that the Soviet Union helped finance Csillagosok, katonák—and subsequently banned the result! Csillagosok, katonák is the middle part of Miklós Jancsó’s black-and-white trilogy that The Round-up opens (1965) and Silence and Cry (1968) concludes.
Set around the Volga River in 1919, in the second year of the Russian Civil War (between Soviets and Tsarist counter-revolutionaries), Jancsó’s film follows in part a Hungarian regiment in support of Bolsheviks and envisions war as a continuous wheel of fortune, where, first, one side holds sway over the other and then, with a reversal a moment later, the other side does, and so on, back and forth. (Fittingly, an abandoned monastery takes turns being either side’s headquarters and hospital.) Sometimes, someone turns against someone else on the same side; thus, each side’s spinning wheel of reversals is contained within the larger wheel of opposing sides. His lenses and cameras attuned to each of these shifts, Jancsó achieves a paradoxical (and brilliant) result. On the one hand, his long shots, especially, capture war’s dehumanizing aspect. On the other, a sameness is enforced on both sides, divesting the conflict of opposite causes, and thus underscoring, without sentimentality, the human dimension and the human cost of war, especially as one participant after another falls. Eschewing flatfooted realism, Hungary’s master formalist has thereby found a way to show war’s mercilessness, analyze the mechanism of war, and take aim at the very idea of war.
One interlude encapsulates war’s absurdity: a White military band playing a waltz in the woods for which nurses have been dressed up and impressed—a respite that reflects on war’s war against the loveliness of life that humanity’s soul finds necessary for existence.
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