ELECTRA, MY LOVE (Szerelmem, Elektra)(director: Miklós Jancsó; screenwriters: László Gyurkó/Gyula Hernádi; cinematographer: János Kende; editor: Zoltán Farkas; music: Tamás Cseh/Béla Vavrinecz; cast: Mari Töröcsik (Electra), J¢szsef Madaras (Aegisthus), György Cserhalmi (Orestes); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: József Bajusz; Facets Video; 1974/Hungary-in Hungarian with English subtitles)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Miklós Jancsó’s (“The Round Up“/”Red Psalm“) loosely adapted interpretation of the Electra myth calls for a continual revolution against any system that rules without justice. He points out that tyranny in order to flourish must keep the population fearful and what overcomes that fear is a willingness to face death and the truth. The “firebird” of revolution must be renewed daily with the rising sun, or else the population will have already been dead and are living for no purpose.
The great Hungarian director has turned this revenge drama into a stirring political musical, featuring at its most dramatic moments the peasant costumed extras going into a song and dance routine. He has also drastically changed the ending, and in this spirited adaptation gives the fable a strong psychological message to fit more easily into modern times.
Electra is viewed as a mad woman, who still grieves 15 years after the death of her father, King Agamemnon, who was killed by the tyrant Aegisthus. She vows revenge and waits for the return of her brother Orestes to help carry out this mission. In a moving monologue she harangues the cowardly masses by saying “I, Electra, who does not forget. While one person lives who doesn’t forget, no one can forget.”
Aegisthus rules by feeding the masses lies and keeping them content with base things and reminding them constantly that their survival depends on his mercy. Electra comments that lies pollute like the plague. But Aegisthus keeps the masses from speaking out by demonstrating how he will punish those who disobey. There are scores of naked men and women whipped in the fields by the king’s enforcers. Fear is what holds the people in line and is used by the king to show how rational it is to blindly obey the rulers.
Orestes has vanished and hasn’t been seen since the crime. Electra’s sister chooses to live in this despotic state without seeking justice and finds peace of mind by suppressing the truth. For Electra, it is only her brother who shares the same state of mind and who will challenge the tyrant with the truth.
Orestes returns unrecognized and informs the king that he killed Orestes, which allays the tyrant’s fears of reprisal and gives rise for celebration among the masses. Electra also doesn’t recognize him and knifes him to death. But Orestes is resurrected and this foments a revolution, as the people are impressed with these different kind of mystical powers and no longer fear their tyrant.
By the time the ending rolls around, the story moves from its ancient roots into modern times and becomes both poetical and silly. There’s a red helicopter, the use of revolvers, and the resurrected hero going after the tyrant to please the audience with the conventional way an action film usually resolves its sticky problems. This fresh approach in film-making style and its use of only 12 long photographic shots to capture its epic scope, caught my curiosity and taxed the way I previously viewed and understood the myth.
The film was shot in Hungary at a time when the Soviet Union and the “iron curtain” countries were in an irretrievable state of collapse. Jancsó was addressing his country’s enslavement at the hands of those tyrants and the empty promises of the socialist state. The people were fed lies by the repressive regime and did not have the strength to rebel. Jancsó through the Greek myth was able to transfer the tragedy to modern times and dispel any doubt about how the truth and lies were wound up in contradictions by the Soviets. The suppressed masses were so beaten down they no longer could decipher the truth, and therefore the world they saw was myopic and distorted. It made for a spellbinding film. The striking red-head Mari Töröcsik as Electra, gave a masterful performance that had conviction and a sense of urgency.
REVIEWED ON 7/17/2003 GRADE: B +
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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