Vác, Hungary, 27 September 1921.
Educated in law at Kolozsvár University, Romania, doctorate 1944;
Budapest Academy of Dramatic and Film Art, graduated 1950.
Married director Márta Mészáros (divorced); son
Miklos Jr. is cameraman.
Newsreel director, early 1950's; shot documentaries in China,
1957; directed first feature,
A harangok Römába mentek
, 1958; director at "25th" theatre, Budapest, 1960's.
Hungarian Critics' Prize, for
, 1963; Best Director Award, Cannes Festival, for
, 1972; Special Prize, Cannes Festival, 1979.
(of short films and documentaries):
Kezunbe vettuk a béke ugyét ( We Took over the Cause of Peace ) (co-d)
Szovjet mezögazdasági küldöttsek tanításai ( The Teachings of a Soviet Agricultural Deputation ) (co-d)
1952 Május 1 ( May 1st 1952 )
Választás elótt ( Before Election ); Arat az Orosházi Dözsa ( Harvest in the Cooperative "Dosza" ); Közös útan ( Ordinary Ways ; On a Common Path ) (co-d)
Galga mentén ( Along the Galgu River ); Ösz Badacsonyban ( Autumn in Badacsony ); Éltetö Tisza-víz ( The Health-giving Waters of Tisza ; Life-bringing Water ); Emberek! Ne engedjétek! ( Comrades! Don't Put up with It ) (co-d, co-sc); Egy kiállitás képei ( Pictures at an Exhibition )
Angyalföldi fiatalok ( Children of Angyalfold ; The Youth of "The Land of Angels" ); A Varsoí vit ( Varsoí Világifjusági Találkozö I-III ; Warsaw World Youth Meeting I-III ); Egy délután Koppánymonostorban ( One Afternoon in Koppanymonostor ; An Afternoon in the Village ); Emlékezz, ifjúság ( Young People, Remember )
Móricz Zsigmond ( Zsigmond Moricz 1879–1942 )
A város peremén ( In the Outskirts of the City ); Dél-Kína tájain ( The Landscapes of Southern China ); Színfoltok Kínaböl ( Colorful China ; Colors of China ); Pekingi palotái ( Palaces of Peking ); Kína vendégei voltunk ( Our Visit to China )
Derkovitz Gyula 1894–1934 ; A harangok Römába mentek ( The Bells Have Gone to Rome ) (feature)
Halhatatlanság ( Immortality ) (+ sc, ph); Izotöpok a gyögyászatban ( Isotopes in Medical Science )
First episode of Három csillág ( Three Stars ); Az eladás müvészete ( The Art of Revival ; The Art of Salesmanship ) (co-d); Szerkezettervezés ( Construction Design ) (+ sc)
Az idö kereke ( The Wheels of Time ) (+ sc); Alkonyok és hajnalok ( Twilight and Dawn ) (+ sc); Indiántörténet ( Indian Story ) (+ sc)
Oldás és kötés ( Cantata ) (+ co-sc); Hej, te eleven Fa . . . ( Living Tree . . . An Old Folk Song ) (+ sc)
(of feature films):
Igyjöttem ( My Way Home )
Szegénylegények ( The Round-up ); Jelenlét ( The Presence ) (short) (+ sc); Közelrölia: a vér ( Close-up: The Blood ) (short)
Csillagosok, katonák ( The Red and the White ) (+ co-sc)
Csend és kiáltás ( Silence and Cry ) (+ co-sc); Vörös Május ( Red May ) (short)
Fényes szelek ( The Confrontation ); Sirokkó ( Teli sirokkó lek ; Winter Wind ) (+ co-sc)
Égi bárány ( Agnus Dei ) (+ co-sc); La pacifista ( The Pacifist ) (+ co-sc); Füst ( Smoke ) (short)
Még kér a nép ( Red Psalm )
Szerelmem, Elektra ( Elektreia )
Vizi privati, pubbliche virtù ( Vices and Pleasures )
Eletünket és vérunket: Magyar rapszödia 1 ( Hungarian Rhapsody ) (+ co-sc); Allegro barbaro: Magyar rapszödia 2 ( Allegro barbaro ) (+ co-sc)
A zsranok szíve avagy Boccaccio Magyarországon ( The Tyrant's Heart ; Boccaccio in Hungary ) (+ co-sc)
Omega, Omega . . . ; Muzsika ( Music )
L'Aube ( Dawn )
Jézus Krisztus Horoszkója
Isten hátrafelé megy ( God Runs Backwards )
Kék Duna keringö ( Blue Danube Waltz )
Szeressük egymást gyerekek!
Anyád! A szúnyogok ; Pesten Nkem lámpást adott kezembe az Úr ( Lord's Lantern in Budapest ) (+ role)
A Maksimenko brigád ( The Maximenko Brigade ) (Koza) (story)
A Pál utcai fiúk ( The Boys of Paul Street ) (Fabri) (role)
Difficile morire (Silva) (role)
Interview, in The Image Maker , edited by Ron Henderson, Richmond, Virginia, 1971.
"L'Idéologie, la technique et le rite," interview with Claude Beylie, in Ecran (Paris), December 1972.
"I Have Played Christ Long Enough: A Conversation with Miklós Jancsó," with Gideon Bachmann, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1974.
"Entretien . . . sur Vitam et sanguinem ," with Michel Ciment and J.-P. Jeancolas, in Positif (Paris), May 1979.
"A jelenlét," interview with I. Antal, in Filmkultura (Budapest), November/December 1981.
Interview with L. Somogyi, in Filmkultura (Budapest), October 1986.
Interview in Hungarofilm Bulletin (Budapest), no. 2, 1988.
Interview in Filmkultura (Budapest), January 1993.
"Uccu, megerett a meggy," in Filmvilag (Budapest), n. 12, 1996.
"Level-fele a drehbuchrol," in Filmvilag (Budapest), no. 2, 1997.
Taylor, John, Directors and Directions , New York, 1975.
Petrie, Graham, History Must Answer to Man: The Contemporary Hungarian Cinema , London, 1978.
Marlia, Giulio, Lo schermo liberato: il cinema di Miklós Jancsó , Florence, 1982.
Paul, David, W., editor, Politics, Art and Commitment in the East European Cinema , New York, 1983.
"Miklós Jancsó," in International Film Guide 1969 edited by Peter Cowie, London, 1968.
Houston, Penelope, "The Horizontal Man," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1969.
Kane, P., and others, "Lectures de Jancsó: hier et aujourd'hui," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March and May 1969, and April 1970.
Robinson, D., "Quite Apart from Miklós Jancsó," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1970.
Czigany, Lorant, "Jancsó Country: Miklós Jancsó and the Hungarian New Cinema," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1972.
Bachmann, Gideon, "Jancsó Plain," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1974.
"Jancsó Issue" of Etudes Cinématographiques (Paris), no. 104–108, 1975.
Robinson, David, "Old Jancsó Customs," in Sight and Sound (London), no.1, 1978/79.
Biro, Y., "Landscape during the Battle," in Millenium (New York), Summer/Fall 1979.
Gillett, John, "Miklós Jancsó," in Film Dope (London), July 1983.
"Special Section" of Filmfaust (Frankfurt), March/April 1984.
Petrie, G., "Miklós Jancsó," in Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Summer 1985.
Liebman, Stuart, "Homevideo," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 28, no. 4, 1991.
Gelencsér, Gábor, "The Acquired Uncertainty: (Order and Chaos in the Art of Miklós Jancsó," in MovEast , vol. 1, no. 2, 1992.
Pošová, Kateøina, "Milenky Miklóse Jancsóa," in Film a Doba (Prague), Spring 1994.
Stratton, David, " Let's Love One Another ( Szeressuk egymast gyerekekp )," in Variety (New York), 18 March 1996.
Elley, Derek, " The Lord's Lantern in Budapest ( Nekem lampast adott kezembe az ur pesten )," in Variety (New York), 22 February 1999.
Kovács, Zsolt, Kamerával Kosztromában [With a Camera in Kosztroma], short, 1967.
Comolli, Jean-Louis, Miklós Jancsó , for TV, France, 1969.
* * *
Miklós Jancsó is probably the best internationally known of the directors to emerge from the new wave Hungarian cinema of the 1960s. With his hypnotic, circling camera, the recurrent—some critics say obsessive—exploration of Hungary's past, and his evocative use of the broad plains of his countries' Puszta, Jancsó fashioned a highly individual cinema within the confines of a state operated film industry. Although a prolific director of short films during the 1950s and an equally prolific director of feature films since the early 1970s, it is for his work during the middle and late 1960s that Jancsó is best known outside his own country.
Beginning with My Way Home , which dealt with a young Hungarian soldier caught up in the German retreat and Soviet advance during the Second World War, Jancsó discovered both a set of themes and a style which helped him to fashion his own voice. My Way Home , unlike most of Jancsó's films, has a hero, but this hero often behaves in a most unheroic way as he makes his way home. Set free by the chaos of the war's end, he is fired upon both by the Russians and the Germans and finally dons a Russian uniform as a protective disguise. Although clearly focused on individual figures, Jancsó's movie does contain an interesting allegory of the fate of his native country as, freed from Nazi oppression, the soldier only reluctantly dons the Russian uniform.
Szegénylegények ( The Round-up , literally The Hopeless ) established Jancsó as a filmmaker of international importance. The film is set in the Hungarian plain in a fort that houses a group of peasants under surveillance following the Kossuth rebellion of 1848, and focuses on the ritual quality of the games played as tormentors and informers and rebels interchange in a mysterious, elliptical dance of human passions. Shot in black and white, the film also revealed a purity of style as each meticulously composed shot conveys Jancsó's preoccupation with humans dislodged from convention and victimised by history. In spite of its scope, however, the film won praise for its analysis of the politics of terror and of the Kafkaesque state machinery through which such terror works.
Csillagosok Katonák (1967, The Red and the White ) and Csend és Kiáltás (1968, Silence and Cry ) moved into the early twentieth century and are concerned with communist revolutions of the immediate post-World War I period. The Red and the White was commissioned by the Soviet government to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the October revolution. The film isolates a group of Hungarian volunteers who are fighting on the side of the reds during the Russian civil war. Once again the expansive plain provides an open background against which huddle the opposing groups, both red and white. It is interesting considering the source of his commission that Jancsó refuses to choose to side with either the red or the whites but rather to present each as a mixture of compassion and understanding, barbarity and stupidity. Silence and Cry , operating on a smaller scale, deals with an isolated farmstead but also raises questions about people caught up in a society torn by social and political change. Here Jancsó's circling camera becomes hypnotic, and his tendency to depsychologize his characters is at its most extreme. Jancsó explains very little in his plot, leaving the viewer to wrestle with its obscurities and ellipses.
The claustrophobic qualities of Silence and Cry prepared his audience for Fényes Szelek (The Confrontation) , set in the immediate post-war world and dealing with students, both Catholic and Communist, who square off in a quadrille interweaving accusation and intimidation. Clearly the film was occasioned by the student riots and sit-ins in 1968–69 in Budapest. It pits the Marxist students as the voice of change and revolution against the conventions of the Catholic students. The plot is minimal and Jancsó's camera at its most vertiginous, hardly ever stopping in its unceasing search for the truth. The truth, of course, as it so often does, eludes us, as the confrontation finally has more to do with temporary power games than it does with ultimate reality.
In Sirokkó (Winter Wind) , made in Yugoslavia as a Franco-Hungarian co-production, he returned to the use of color (as in The Confrontation) and photographed, like Silence and Cry , with a minimum of shots, twelve in this case. The story deals with the historical and political irony of a Croatian anarchist leader of the 1930s who is destroyed by his own forces, only later to be resurrected as a hero. Égi Bárány (Agnus Dei) , a favorite film of Jancsó's and regarded by many Hungarians as his most nationalistic, is once again set in the broad Hungarian plain during the period of civil war, but it is far more symbolic and anticipates the new ground he would explore in his next film.
With Még Kér a Nép (Red Psalm) , Jancsó returned to the Puszta and to the end of the last century during a period of peasant unrest. A confrontation between workers and their landowners is interrupted by the army. The subsequent action follows patterns established earlier in Jancsó's other films. But there is a difference in Red Psalm —the symbolic elements always present in the earlier films become foregrounded: a dead soldier is resurrected by a kiss from a young girl; the soldiers join the peasants in a Maypole dance but eventually surround the rebellious farmers and shoot them down; a girl outside the circle using a gun tied with a red ribbon guns down all of the soldiers. The mannerisms noted by a number of critics are missing here, and Jancsó seems to have found a new direction amidst old material: the symbolism of the film elevates it beyond Jancsó's usual concerns. Red Psalm exemplifies what is often hidden in his other films: the totality of the film, and the celebration of life in the revolution which will bring joy in the renewed possibilities for human expression and freedom.
Although Miklós Jancsó has gone on to make other films, many of them outside Hungary itself, his body of work from My Way Home to Red Psalm seems to best exemplify his unique contribution to world cinema. Like many of the other new Hungarian filmmakers, Jancsó rejected the traditions of the conservative and classic bound national cinema he inherited, turning to a more liberating and avant-garde style that allowed him not only greater artistic expression but also increased freedom from state censorship. By adopting a more modernist approach, most notably evident in his use of a minimal plot and in the dialectical tensions between the images, he has urged his audiences out of their complacency by challenging the status quo through his questioning of the uses and abuses of state power wielded in the name of the people. This has made his films truly revolutionary.
—Charles L.P. Silet