Szegénylegények (1966)

ROUND UP, THE (Szegénylegények)

(director: Miklos Jansco; screenwriter: Gyula Hernadi; cinematographer: Tamas Somlo; editor: Zoltan Farkas; cast: Janos Gorbe (Janos Gajdor), Tibor Molnar (Kabai), Andras Kozak (Kabai’s Son), Ida Siménfalvy (Öregasszony, Peasant Woman); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: András Németh; Hungarofilm/Altura Films International; 1965-Hungary-in Hungarian with English subtitles)

“A necessarily heavy but unforgettable viewing experience.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Miklos Jancso’s powerful Hungarian political film is based on a true historical incident. It deals with the consequences following the collapse of the 1848 revolution against the Hapsburg rule. The Austrian police, sometimes in the 1860s, “round up” possible suspects from the Kossuth Rebellion. The peasant political prisoners are being questioned in order to identify members of a guerrilla band under Kossuth in the 1848 revolution and their leader. The maniacal plan is to totally crush the rebellion and eliminate the last holdouts, as likely members of the Sandor Rozsa’s guerrilla bandits are being brought in for questioning among the peasant population.

It’s tense and hypnotic, a study in evil with mind-boggling scenarios that leave an indelible impression of choreographed dehumanization that is too impossible and inhumane to completely comprehend. We look on in horror as we see how a police state operates by fear and torture in a spiritual vacuum. The dialogue is sparse; the landscape is barren. The sublime film is so bleak that it allows no light in to ease the viewing, as it lets its active camera do the talking by filming the poverty of the human condition that reflects the hopelessness and alienation of the losing side.

The suspects are rounded up and led around the burned-out plain where they are subjected to curt orders from the military commanders, as the blazing sun unmercifully beats down on them. A prisoner after being questioned for smuggling propaganda for Kossuth into Hungary is released and when he quickly tries to leave the premises he is nonchalantly killed by gunfire. Others are taken away and mysteriously vanish. Everything looks surreal, as the landscape is filled with the eerie silence of death.

Janos Gajdar (János Görb) is ratted out by a nearby peasant woman as one of the bandits to get the police off her back, and he is brought in to be grilled. This leads to a new twist, as the irresolute Janos in a futile attempt to save his life becomes an informant. This leads to a series of betrayals and more violence, as the attempt to single out the revolutionaries from the hordes of peasants rounded up becomes a vicious cat-and-mouse game.

Miklos Jansco creates a film with faceless people who are not villains or heroes, just pawns in a bad chess game. It’s a story about the lessons of history that were never learned, with the point being that the same mistakes are happening again by the communist rulers of Hungary in 1965. It makes for a necessarily heavy but unforgettable viewing experience.