«We, the Revolution»

    RETROSPECTIVE / Porto/Post/Doc offers a thematic retrospection on the idea of «revolution».

    «Is a revolution possible?… and what can it mean?» was the title of one of my recent articles in MTR. Indeed the term «Revolution» is a key word in the publicity market and is used in all directions. But, undoubtedly, on the other side, thinking about (a possible) revolution seems to be the most urgent necessity facing cracking democracies, triumphing monarchies, or simple dictatorships today.

    Regularly we can observe people’s hopes getting lost when a «revolution» result is just an insignificant change or adaptation of a system. For example, a little more money distribution on this or that side, without touching the real resources, or just the replacements of one or some heads of the state hierarchy, which quickly unfold themselves as the shadow of the replaced. Sadly enough, even the largest street manifestation could be calmed down only by these simple acts. But the dominating administrative power will be the same. Some «figures» will replace others, but business will continue.

    Diary for my children Márta Mészáros
    Diary for My Children, a film by Márta Mészáros

    Global context

    Revolution, in its pure sense, means the possibility to change a power system. But to change a system, you need a strategy to redirect a complex society in a global context. Revolution would mean a concrete reorganization of the distribution system of benefits, social and medical protection, and access to education, to mention some key aspects.

    In this sense, a revolution means replacing «figures» with communities and committees based on knowledge produced in international university exchange proceedings. Knowledge about the possibilities of concrete change is the key task. For real change, you need political, social, and economic items coordinating knowledge. But this most urgent necessity is not even requested; you can imagine why not. Real change is never of interest to people in charge. Strangely enough, even if democracy always is celebrated as the most wishful system, nobody talks, asks, or teaches on regular public grounds, what democracy is, should or could be. Not to mention the limits of representative democracy in times of rapid global destruction.

    The Porto/Post/Doc Film & Media Festival seems to reach out to these urgencies and titled a section «We, the Revolution». So will we find here some hints about revolution?

    elektra My Love Miklós Jancsó
    Elektra, My Love, a film by Miklós Jancsó

    Elektra, My Love

    Yes, in one case. But we have to go back to ancient Greece and simultaneously enter into a mythological world to find Elektra, My Love (1974), by Miklós Jancsó, based on a play by the Hungarian writer László Gyurkó, who reinterpreted the Greek myth, a which premiered in Budapest in 1968.

    We are placed in a nearly deserted landscape, populated by a harmless, repressed and controlled population, dominated by its dictator Aegistos, who captured Electra as the daughter of Agamemnon, the former king, killed by him. She is just hoping for the return of Oreste, her brother, who seems the only one who can reverse the power structure again. Miklós Jancsó remarkably reconstructs a mental setting of a pre-psychological society, recalling Pasolini’s historical works. All protagonists act in quietness and emotional self-distance as figures and representants of forces and concepts. Aegistos reclaimed that freedom overstrains people who are not able to handle it. On the contrary, who cannot find happiness in it. Consequently, people need rules and orders. However, Elektra knows that there is always a force of resistance that waits to break out. Quietly she reclaims: «I could kill you, Aegistos. But I won’t because another would take your place. Another tyrant. Another murderer. It is not you who must be destroyed but the order you have built. Oreste will come; he will destroy even your memory from the people…I am able to wait.»

    Again the ambivalence of revolution is pointed out here: not setting in place just another figure, but waiting for a change. But what kind of change, to avoid just a replacement, just the return of the equal? Finally, Oreste arrived, disguised and welcomed as the messenger of his death. Electra does not hesitate to kill him, not believing in her brother’s death. But in a mythological scenario, soon we see the carrier being back, alive, but this time as Oreste himself. He takes revenge for his father’s murder, but in a remarkably controlled way, framed by rituals, far from any dramatic evaluation.

    Interestingly enough, the victorious Elektra and Oreste will eventually kill themselves in agreement. We can read this as the logical conclusion of the revolution’s dilemma: violence and revenge only can be finished with the self-applicated death of the revenge takers. But again, Jancsó will transport us to a not mythological but even surreal scenario. In ancient Greece, the world enters a red helicopter, which picks up the come-to-live-again couple Elektra and Orestes to take them on a flight.

    What remains are Electra’s last words, remembering the right terms of revolution: Only once there are no more land- and factory-owners, no more bourgeois and proletariat, rich and poor, oppressor and oppresses, when there are no longer people who are overfed while others starve when everyone can partake equally from the basket of abundance when everybody can be seated equally at the table of rights when the light of intelligence radiates from the window of every home…then…and only then will there be life on earth worthy of human beings, freedom, happiness, and peace. But even then, the firebird will fly above us, and it will still die every day, only to be reborn the next day, more beautiful than ever, blessed by your name: revolution. Can we imagine a film today of the same radically, or have we all got lost in pragmatics?

    Adoption Márta Mészáros
    Adoption, a film by Márta Mészáros


    In Adoption (1975) by Hungarian filmmaker Márta Mészáros we cannot really speak about revolution but of profound solidarity between women, all on edge, all lost, in different ways, but offering help to each other. The cinematographic sensuality, marking quite a difference from the other films in Porto’s sections, is manifesting itself already in the first scene: the camera’s slow gliding over the arm full of skin wrinkles of Kata, a forty-three-year-old factory worker woman. Her house is placed nearby an asylum for abandoned or orphan youngsters. Visited by some of them, Kata (played with amazing grace by Katalin Berek) comes in contact with Anna. Kata suffered from being at the age of last chance to have a child. But her lover, married and father refuse her wish, even if she admits to being able to bring up a child alone. Invited to his home, Kata sees her lover’s wife as a woman who has abandoned her dreams just to be forced to be a housewife. The rebel Anna encouraged Kata not to wait any longer for this man, who lives in a famed, compromising world. Anna herself tries to capture her freedom in a relationship and marriage with her boyfriend. Still, underage, her indifferent and accusing parents need to agree, and Kata succeeds in helping her. The marriage act itself – one of the most intense scenes marked by the loneliness and pain of all the watching other asylum members, appeared again in an ambivalent way because the just married couple seems already to enter into a harsh conflict. Kata decided to adopt a young child from the shelter. Márta Mészáros gracefully captures the fragility and helplessness of all these women with sensitivity and forceful empathy. Her contribution to the real-life condition of women became the first Hungarian film to compete in Berlin and was the first film directed by a woman to win the festival’s top prize, the Golden Bear.

    Adoption stands out through its forceful sensitivity and sensuality compared with the other works presented in Porto’s «We, the Revolution» section, which indeed would be better defined as a selected retrospective on each of three films by Márta Mészáros and Miklós Jancsó.

    Diary For My Loves Márta Mészáros
    Diary for My Loves, a film by Márta Mészáros

    Key situations in history

    The other features pick up a key situation in Hungarian history. Like Márta Mészáros autobiographical works Diary For My Loves (1987) and Diary For My Children (1984), the last winner of the Grand prize of the jury in Cannes, follows mainly the conflict of young woman Juli, daughter of her killed communist father during the Stalinist purges, and her aunt, Magda, an anti-fascist resistant, now firmly committed to the new regime, comfortably living as a collaborator with the Russian intruders in the aftermath of the Second World War, during Stalinist years, after the failed revolution of 1956. Surely, Juli is rebelling against being integrated and part of the occupying forces, but to apply the term revolution in a conflict between a state and resisting groups seems displaced.

    Red Psalm by Miklós Jancsó (1972) treats the conflict between farmers and a female nobleman asking the army to avenge the landowner’s death. The film has placed the end of the 19th century in Hungary. Even as a film of possible national interest, it is marked by an Agit-Prop-Film aesthetic without narrative or conceptual sublimity, more a costume celebration than a historical reconstruction. Miklós Jancsó received first international recognition with his work The Round-Up (1966). Here we must go back to 1848, facing the Lajos Kossuth’s revolution against Habsburg’s intrusion in Hungary. Mostly treating murdering revenge in a prisoner camp, treasons for life savings in most repressed circumstances, there is no revolution here too.

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    Dieter Wieczorek
    Dieter Wieczorek
    Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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