Director: Miklós Jancsó
Starring: József Madaras, Tibor Molnár, András Kozák, András Kozák, Anatoli Yabbarov
Duration: 90 min.
After the Revolution, during the civil war, the Soviet Red forces defended the new regime from foreign intervention and foreign-backed White counter-revolutionary forces at times on 21 fronts. This is the story of the opposing forces on one of these fronts, where Hungarian volunteers had joined the defense.
The Red and The White is a Hungarian/Soviet film written and directed by Miklós Jancsó. It is part of a trilogy of films he directed during the late 1960's that deal with the aftermath of the 1919 communist revolution, following The Round-Up and Silence and Cry.
This one takes place somewhere in Central Russia, and the premise involves the Red forces battling the White forces for control of a strategic village that contains an abandoned monastery and an infirmary. Though, much like The Round-Up we aren't presented with a story or plot line but rather a random sequence of images of war. The camera indiscriminately roams the front, following one character for awhile and then the next, constantly moving and capturing scenes of battle on foot, horseback, and even from the skies.
We get first hand footage of confusion, abuse of power, and senseless brutalities on both sides. POW's are selected at random to be freed, or lined up on a wall and shot. Others are stripped of their shirts and boots, given a 15 minute head start, and then chased down and slaughtered by mounted cavalry. A small platoon of Reds marches proudly in formation to their doom, whilst singing to the tune of La Marseillaise head on into an insurmountable wall of opposing forces. In another bizarre scene, an officer of the White forces angrily hand picks all the young and pretty nurses from the field hospital and drags them into the middle of the woods where we expect some sinister humiliation or atrocity to occur, but instead he orders them to pair off and waltz to the tune of a marching band before sending them home.
These rather frustrating images all serve a singular purpose, to tell us that war is an awful and futile thing. But the scenes are very impressively shot and technically astonishing. The long, floating, steady tracking battle sequences are amazingly complex with some that include large groups of Cossack cavalry on horseback and others with marksmen aboard aircraft firing at the crowds of running combatants below. Watching these almost gives the impression that this is footage of real battles taking place, and its refreshing to see it done with so few edits and no special effects.
Like the previous two Jancsó films in my Spotlight on Hungarian Cinema, this one is a visually brilliant cinematic experience with a mesmerizing atmosphere, but will likely be avoided for its age, setting, and lack of a dramatic narrative. Still I highly recommend it to any cinema or history buffs out there.