The Red and the White (Csillagosok, katonak)

The Red and the White

No quarter for the Bolsheviks!

Here we go, another film that largely divides audience reactions into the “love it” or “hate it” camps. Interestingly enough, though, this is one that I actually do have something to go by before seeing it, having seen Miklos Jancso’s other list film, Red Psalm. That one I hated; I found it completely empty of substance, and likened it humorously to being an interpretive dance rather than a film. Well, it seems I can’t fault Jancso for not being consistent; this earlier work of his, The Red and the White, is very much of the same mold, and features almost identical selling points; the only real difference being that this is in black-and-white instead of color.

So, here’s the thing: this film basically has no plot. There isn’t even a section for the plot on the Wikipedia entry for this film; that’s how plotless it is. Ostensibly, the film is about the conflict between the titular Reds (Communists) and Whites (Tsarists) in post-Russian-Revolution Hungary, and leaves it at that. What the film actually is, however, is something a little more difficult to grasp. I’m going to describe the film as best I can, and I’ll do it in ways that will be almost identical to the descriptions I gave for Red Psalm, but I’ll assume you either haven’t seen that film or read my review of it, because if you’ve read my review for one of them, you’ve really read them both. The film is comprised of a series of long takes, which necessitates that everything that happens in the frame happen flawlessly, or they’ll be forced to do it again. By that logic, I can commend Jancso for being a hell of a craftsman, and knowing exactly what it is he wants out of his actors and set pieces. That said, I can’t commend him on being a hell of a storyteller, because Jancso isn’t a storyteller; he’s an expresser of metaphors and ideas. This is basically a fancy way of saying that he’s a choreographer, and little more, and here I’ll repeat a sentiment I expressed in my Red Psalm review: to make up for the lack of engaging editing, since it is merely long take after long take, each take has a ton of movement in the frame, from people going through scripted motions to other people on horseback trotting along to add extra kinetic visuals, even to the camera itself floating back and forth and to and fro for seemingly no reason other than to see if Jancso could get away with doing it in the shot, or to make the shot more complicated for whatever reason.

It’s at this point that I’m basically throwing my hands up in the air when it comes to Jancso as a filmmaker. He’s not a filmmaker; he’s a choreographer, and even with his choreography having layers of metaphor beneath them, that alone does not a film make. I hand-waved this away with my Red Psalm review by basically saying at the end that it’s up to Jancso how he wishes to use the medium of cinema, but I really have to protest the concept of making a film like this; just because he wants to make a film like this, does not make a film like this watchable. It may be historically relevant, or cinematically appealing, or nice to look at, or even important in that the Soviet Union sought to suppress the film, but that still doesn’t make it watchable, and that doesn’t make it good. Really, the only reason to see this or Red Psalm is to say that you’ve seen all the films on the list and not be a liar in doing so, because there’s no other reason to watch this film, and I’d be willing to bet that any reason anyone could come up with to watch this, I could take that reason and stick it on another film that does it better, thus making The Red and the White almost completely perfunctory in the annals of cinema. I’m willing to grant that my opinion of this film has only soured further during my writing of this review, but I still say that that does not mean that I am wrong.

Arbitrary Rating: 5/10

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