With each new release of a Miklós Jancsó film by Second Run it seems like we're slowly but surely coloring in a previously blank part of the whole, and it's wonderful. The Confrontation (Fényes szelek) marks the fifth such instance. In addition to being the director's first feature shot in color, it also feels like a nice bridge leading up to Red Psalm. Both utilize flowing and free camera movements amid rural landscapes while experimenting heavily with character-sung folk or protest songs. As with pretty much all of Jancsó's work, political themes merge against actions so that it becomes virtually impossible to separate ideas from art. The Confrontation is perhaps of particular interest because it's actually less transparent in its intentions than what we've grown to expect from other Jancsó efforts.
The setting here is just after the Communist Party's rise to power in 1947 Hungary. Student groups extol the virtues of Marxism and the writings of Lenin but the question persists as to how deeply the simmering rebellion is rooted in actual conviction. One voice, a female named Jutka, preaches a stronger, more violent course of action while another, the red-shirted Laci, favors a calmer following of the Communist ideology. As often as not, Jancsó seems to be questioning the reasons behind the fire of some of these young people, yet doing so in a clever enough way as to resist potentially discouraging those genuinely concerned and committed. He creates a hero in the quietly charismatic and strikingly dressed Laci and then gently martyrs him by having Jutka initiate the stripping of his power. What support that can thus be deciphered shifts to Laci. And, still, we're forced to consider a friendship of sorts which he has with a young member of the police, someone who can be viewed as representing an authority figure.
This power struggle occupies only a portion of the film but its surrounding implications color a great deal of it. It feels instructive because there's a real distinction at work between Jutka and Laci, and the various supporters they have seem easily swayed. The basics of the ideals involved can perhaps be lost. Whether this was an intended statement by the film, a consequence of the situation or a mere side-effect is somewhat open-ended. The reality of what was going on during the film's time of release in 1968 with student protests (leading the intended Cannes debut by the wayside when the festival was canceled) certainly add to any potential reading. Jancsó was a master at spinning history's pasts into metaphors for contemporary concerns. In some ways we can read The Confrontation as both a critique and a lending of support to the various student struggles happening at the time.
Stylistically, the movie is a dazzling, uninterrupted force dotted with very widely framed photography, eye-catching color choices and seemingly boundless camera work. The horizontally generous frame becomes an excuse to pan around a large circle of students standing hand-in-hand as they sing in unison. Are they moving so fluidly or is that just the camera? Suddenly it's like we've stepped into Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. A circle on one side of the frame gives way for a similar enclosure on the opposite side. Those who understandably feel puzzled by some of what takes place among the characters should at least find themselves struck by the elegantly active camera.
Hardly anything else feels quite like a Miklós Jancsó film. Fiercely political but smart enough to cloak his interests, at least ostensibly, so as to avoid the Hungarian censors, he had the remarkable talent to marry that awareness with daring and unusual aesthetics. The result, particularly during a celebrated stretch from the mid-1960s to Red Psalm in 1973, was a unique body of work lacking in compromise. The Confrontation came right at the sweet spot in Jancsó's filmography, and, unsurprisingly, it's a layered, impressive work which must be seen by anyone interested in the director. As each of Second Run's editions has trickled out (and let's hope there will be more), it's become more and more clear that Jancsó deserves to be recognized as a master filmmaker.
This Second Run DVD release of The Confrontation comes on a single-layered disc that is R0 and PAL. It is number 073 in the Second Run catalog.
Sourced from a recent restoration, the progressive transfer looks remarkably good. Colors really stand out, with reds popping nearly off the screen against other, more muted tones. The only significant evidence of any damage comes in the form of a couple of black reel change markers which pop up in the top right corner of the screen. The image is otherwise pleasingly clean and detailed. Though Second Run list the aspect ratio as 2.35:1, my suspicions that it actually looked even wider proved correct and the ratio is closer to 2.47:1.
The Hungarian mono audio comes in a two-channel Dolby Digital track. The many sing-alongs as well as the spoken dialogue emerge clearly and at a consistent, adequate volume. I heard nothing to give pause nor does there seem to be any damage of note. Optional English subtitles are provided, with the songs translated. A couple of small typographical errors did make it past.
There are no special features on the disc but an included 14-page booklet contains a helpful, career-spanning essay by Graham Petrie on director Miklós Jancsó. The Confrontation is not discussed in great depth but it does at least come up for a few paragraphs midway through the piece.