THE WITNESS (Péter Bacsó, 1969)

My paternal grandmother had a term for movies like this: anti movies. They’re usually against either socialism or communism, and they are ideologically driven by capitalists, fascists, religionists or proto-fascists.
     Péter Bacsó’s A Tanú has become legendary through no credit of its own. Its attraction is its history. The film was made in the late 1960s as a satire of Hungary’s communist regime of the 1950s, with the Ministry of Culture monitoring the project it had tentatively greenlighted, even to the extent of demanding certain revisions and deletions. Despite this official interference and handprint, the result was banned. (It’s possible that an intervening Soviet Union ordered the film’s suppression.) The film was not destroyed, however, and a decade later it saw the light of day. Thereafter, the tedious, visually haphazard A Tanú was viewed through the prism of its background.
     Everyman József Pelikán (Ferenc Kállai, adequate), a dike keeper, illegally slaughters Dezsõ, the family pig, to feed himself and his overpopulated family. (For me, it would have been funnier had József sacrificed one of his children to feed the others.) But he is plucked from prison to begin a bewildering ascension up the Party ranks, the reason for which is eventually revealed: he is to testify against a friend at a show-trial.
     Buried in this mishmash is a good idea: that every soul in a police state to some degree bears witness to the cruel conditions under which ordinary people live. However, this satire is executed without wit or grace. The script by Bacsó and János Ujhelyi is excrutiatingly dull, and even at that the film remains more “written” than realized.
     But how the film is praised, both by those who should know better and those who know nothing, and care even less, about cinema.

One thought on “THE WITNESS (Péter Bacsó, 1969)

  1. Sorry, but I think you don’t understand this film. This is the English understatement of the Hungarians, this film is a sarcasm. This is not about what is done in the film this is about the way is done, about the detail. Unfortunately for those how did not leave the communism, it will be hard to put themselves in the role of Mr. Pelikan.

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