Go ahead, brigade of one heart and thousand languages – On Jancsó Miklós‘ Fényes szelek

A car is coming from the other side of the reservoir. Young people are watching it, a loud whistle calls a gathering for a partisan action. This artificial lake together with a dilapidated building; the whole lakeside resembles an old factory district. The car arrives, another whistle, and the partisans appear in front of the car, embracing each other in a line stopping the cars. A plain-clothes officer gets out of the car, another one of the partisans in a red shirt appears. In the background, we can see policemen in uniform pointing at the partisans with their machine guns. The man in the civil clothes asks the youngsters if they have gone mad, then orders the policemen to put off their guns. He must be the head of these policemen and surely knows the partisans from before. While he collects the guns, the youngsters arrange in a big circle closing in on the officer. He faces the red-shirted man, and in a friendly way asks him to let the police pass. The partisans lay on the ground and start singing: “On Madrid’s borders, we stand on guards…”. The man in civil clothes lays down with them and sings for a second. He stands up, as if he knew he shouldn’t and couldn’t stay. He signals the policemen to interrupt this performance. At first, the police seems completely powerless, and the police cannot get the people laying on the ground stand up. All of a sudden, the partisans jump up and start to throw the officers into the reservoir. The man in the civil clothes appears in the foreground of the image, retreating with hands raised up. The man in the red shirt goes through his pockets and confiscates his gun. In the background, partisans and policemen are playing together in the water. Finally, it turns out that the gun wasn’t even loaded. This was the first shot of the film.

To comprehend the density of this first shot requires disambiguation, and this can be achieved through the thorough examination of the choreography. The film starts with the youngsters waiting; they know already that the policemen are coming as they have prepared an action to stop them. When they arrive, we believe that their power has a threatening effect on the partisans, which sense is supported by the fact that the stoppage and protest are against them. Their power is represented in the uniforms, in the guns, in their cars. On the other hand, the youngsters’ power is presented in their songs and their collective movement.

Kozma’s figure (the officer in civil clothes) seems to be some kind of mediator in this tense situation and his role raises our uncertainty concerning what is at stake. When he gets out of the car to ask the youngsters what they are doing, his tone is casual, almost kindly, while the guns appear in the background. Then, how is it possible to lay down with the partisans and in the next moment, give orders to stop their protest? Pushing the officers in the water undermines the seriousness of the scene, it seems more like a party than a confrontation, but then in the foreground we see Kozma with hands up, even if he has a gun.

The liminal atmosphere between game and terror, playing and humiliating, joy and defiance crystalizes through Kozma, and sets the stage for the whole film.

Later, it turns out that the youngsters organizing the partisan actions are actually NÉKOSZ (National Association of Popular Colleges/People’s College) members, which was an institution under the Rákosi regime – the Stalinist period after WWII – to educate the children of the lower classes, in order to give them the opportunity to become intellectuals. So, in theory, the NÉKOSZ members and the policemen are representing the same revolution on different levels. These youngsters are not really revolting against state authority, as they support the ideology of the regime. When the self-organizing group later gains power they prove themselves more radical than the police itself.

This first shot is the presentation of NÉKOSZ in these unstable power-relations. From here, the film is about their aim to convince the students of a Catholic seminar of the strength and singular validity of their communist ideas.

Sparkling Motion

The year 1968 was quite significant in both Western and Eastern Europe. Paris and Prague became the two symbolic cities of the revolution, facing fundamentally different issues and problems. Paris became the centre of a social revolution motivated by ideological convictions and a disgust at bourgeois hierarchies and imperialist conduct, while the people of Czechoslovakia were oppressed under the Soviet regime, which necessitated a response, a revolution for liberation and self-government.

In Hungary, 1968 was not so relevant, as only a minority were aware of the revolutionary intentions. Being a part of the Soviet bloc, most of the intellectuals felt attracted to the example of Prague, where the aim was to democratize the regime from the dictatorial state forms. The most visible consequence Hungarian intellectuals had to suffer was a long series of discharges from workplaces (publishing houses, universities and the academia), as well as an infamous prosecution of philosophers for their various expressions of solidarity with the people of Prague. From this perspective the revolution against capitalism, consumerism, and American imperialism seemed distant, like an artificial problem made by and for the West.

In the context of Hungary, Jancsó’s internationally well-known figure was an exceptional one. Fényes szelek was the director’s first colour film, made after the international success of Szegénylegények and Így jöttem. This movie can be seen as part of a trilogy with Jancsó’s later films Sirokkó and La pacifista.

Jancsó was among the few favoured intellectuals who were free to go abroad – he spent months in China and often travelled between European cities. In the May of 1968 at the Cannes film festival, he actually witnessed the French revolution up close, and it made a deep impression on him. Returning to Hungary later in the summer, he started to shoot Fényes szelek. Despite being embedded in Hungarian culture, the story and the motifs of the film carry the signs of the director’s viewpoint on 1968, influenced by both the Eastern and the Western-European situation. Jancsó’s engaged populist–socialist attitude and his critical approach towards any kind of authority meet in a complex ideological field, resulting in a movie full of enthusiasm for and fear of a given historical situation, analyzing the nature of power and reflecting upon different political contexts at the same time.

“Remaining, of course, always an outsider.” [1] This quotation of his reminiscences of his visit in Paris in 1968 describes exactly his liminal situation.

Before moving on to some reflections on the contemporary atmosphere, it is necessary to take a look at Jancsó’s statement about the narrative’s period; the late forties in Hungary. Socialism was conceived in sin. He exemplifies how easily goodwill and pure faith turn into radicalism by looking at a harmless organization, NÉKOSZ (National Association of Popular Colleges). Jancsó himself had an experience of this institution together with the film’s screenwriter, Hernádi Gyula, as they were both members of the Popular College, participating in collective events and agitative actions. The organization was only active from 1946 to 1949, and before Jancsó’s film, the organization was hardly remembered, while it proved to be an exceptionally effective educational tool, according to reports of the former members.

Fényes szelek was promoted as a commemorative movie to NÉKOSZ – the Hungarian title is Sparkling Winds, recalling the first lines of its march song; “Sparkling winds blowing our flags and subverting the whole world.” After its premier, partly due to heightened and false expectations, it really divided the critics and the Hungarian audience. Indeed, it was very unexpected, as it was the first film by Jancsó that the state-party understood as a critique of their regime.

The experience of 1968 resonates with the behaviour of the Popular College people, especially in the second part, when under Jutka’s leadership, the group radicalizes. The banners and the fliers recall the images that live in the public consciousness about the revolutionary streets of Paris. Moreover, their appearance; the farmer skirts, striped shirts and hairstyles definitely evoke the sixty’s trends.

Another notion that strengthens the relevance of the French connection is the comparison with Jean-Luc Godard’s La chinoise. Both films reflect the climate of the late sixties in France, and both keep distance from the juveniles’ actions, showing borderline attraction and repulsion towards them. However, their tone and criticism touches upon different aspects of their revolutionary way of thinking and radicalization. Godard portrays students with superficial ideas and pretentious theories exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness. By contrast, in Fényes szelek, even if it’s assumed that these people do not have any complex thoughts on their debate topics, like the role of the individual in history or the cognizability of the world, their devotion and ideas are taken seriously. For instance, the contrast between the people of the Popular College and the Catholic seminar is shown in the opposition of their sharply differing convictions, that all seem relevant as they are based on actual personal and historical experiences. Radicalization in both cases comes from a childlike attitude; in La chinoise the students don’t seem to have a relation with the graveness of the actual political and social situation, while in Fényes szelek, the juveniles’ seriousness creates the situation in the narrative, interfering with the actual political situation of the country.

The established parabolic form of Jancsó’s previous films becomes more complicated, as the dramaturgic structure follows two main characters of the same group, embedded into the context of three different ideologies. Jancsó builds up the story by concentrating on the members of the Popular College, whose intention is to make the students of the Catholic seminar share their communist ideology. While there is purity in their thoughts and spirit in their unquenchable thirst for debate, all their actions seem naïve and childish in their brutality, and each of their gestures become unexpectedly aggressive. The first attempt to debate fails because of this attitude, followed by Laci’s disillusionment and later renouncement, and the second time Jutka’s abuses make an end to this process. The storyline is clearly divided in two parts, primarily focusing on the two main characters and their relation to the Popular College and to the Catholic seminar, but it can only be discussed within the context given by the state authority embodied by the policemen.

The two protagonists essentialize the idols of communist youth; their faces tell everything. Balázsovits Lajos as Laci represents an everyday guy, a person who is devoted and enthusiastic in spreading communist ideas, yet resists any kind of aggression and has faith in debate, so he remains harmless. His leadership seems sincerely and naively democratic at the first scene on the riverside, when all the members of the college follow his way of acting, but in the end, they form a dancing circle together. Laci takes off his red shirt, the sign of his distinctiveness and he joins them naked as if he was renouncing authority in favour of the college.

Contrary to all this, in the second part of the film we see Drahota Andrea as Jutka, the close-up shots show her dramatic face and desperate look. Her attitude is much more determined and aggressive than Laci’s. As a leader she feels necessary to rise above the others, so after filling Laci’s former position as main secretary, she literally rises by sitting on the shoulder of two boys while demanding accountability for the assumed perpetrators. Clarifying the consensus and the ideology is essential for her, and to prove to the Others she is ready to make radical decisions.

Offering two possible roles as a leader of a communist group, Jancsó articulates his viewpoint on the dynamics of the oppressors and the oppressed in the Stalinist times of Hungary, slightly referring to the contemporary events, the revolutionary atmosphere of 1968. The detailed structure of the film is based on 31 long takes adjusted to the dynamics of different types of movement. Their inspirational source might be that the director’s first encounter with art was participating in a dancing theatre led by Muharay Elemér, who was a prominent choreographer and researcher. Jancsó shot documentaries about this theatre and, as we can see in films like Fényes szelek, it deeply influenced his later works.

The actors’ motion can be read as the expression of their ideologies, as Szekfű András[2] argues. As described above, the first type of collective movement is well-prepared; it’s an offensive action, when the members of the College flock together in a skirmish-line, phalanx, circle, or they simply cruise around the others. In the first scene they already appear moving as if it was a partisan action against the policemen. Complicating the situation, one of the policemen, Kozma, joins the youth, expressing the close connection between the police and the College, and his personal attachment to it. After dropping the policemen into the water all the members themselves jump in. These collective movements have an ambiguous sense: despite their playfulness, they also invoke the atmosphere of a military action. Stressing this military connotation, their movements are also accompanied by strong whistles, shouts, or ideologically offensive songs. This military atmosphere reaches its highpoint later, during Jutka’s leadership, when the skirmish-line formed by the College members drives the seminar students into a corner. After that, Jutka comes up with the idea of shaving the hair of the guilty, which unmistakably resembles Nazi methods.

Additionally, loose and aimless walking also evokes military-like movements, and these actions are usually followed by different kinds of motion. Walking around always suggests the intention of assessing and weakening the other’s ideological position and, above all, representing the dominance of the group. The first encounter with the students of the seminar happens this way – they are standing side by side in uniforms, and the College members try to break their unity shouting questions to debate. Approaching the students as liberators, their way of moving can be summarized by a symbolic sentence Laci shouted: “We came to introduce ourselves.” Asking questions without expecting answers, only for the sake of persuading people, this is how the attitude of the College people is shown. Regardless of Laci’s honest belief in debate, this scene appears to be more of an invasion than a fruitful dispute.

Another fundamental movement is dance, either organized or spontaneous, always performing an ideological affiliation. Organized dances are demonstrative ones, while a spontaneous dance might express a temporal unity. In the case of the College the dances are usually connected to revolutionary songs or folk songs. However, the most important dancing scene is when Laci invites Hungarian folk dancers and an orchestra to perform, testifying that he understands that the total lack of interest in the seminar students makes the debate impossible, and changes the technique of his approach. As these movements root back to the Hungarian folk tradition, they form a common base for the Popular College and the Catholic seminar.

The last type of movement, appearing in some scenes, concentrate on only one or two characters presenting a certain ideology or standpoint. Without the strong background provided by the group, these people become uncertain and exposed to the others. Despite their uniforms, the students of the Catholic seminar mostly move in an individual way, or react together to the offensive movements of the communist youth. This individual movement dominates in a particularly important situation, in the conversation between András and Laci – this is the first scene when Laci’s ideological confidence gets destabilized.

In addition to the analysis of the movements, the spatial structure of the scenes is something that might be related to the military-like atmosphere. The whole spatial arrangement resembles a fortress assault, as the story begins and ends in the riverside below the Catholic seminar on a hill, as if the attackers were waiting to conquer the fortress. The assemblies of the College are held on an opposite hill so they have to retreat to elaborate new strategies. In a nutshell, the Popular College and the Catholic seminar can be identified easily, while the third group, the state authority cannot be localized. It seems like they were everywhere. They do not need a specific place, so it is difficult to confront them. They appear in unexpected situations without any kind of hardship, they enter and leave whenever they want. Their modus vivendi expresses their omnipotence and degrades the fight of the College to a fairy tale, an unimportant game of the youth. The tool symbolizing their status is the car, which grants them flexibility, and gives symbolic meaning to the scene when the students overturn the car. This case is a turning point for Laci, as he finally understands the real power relations which becomes the ultimate reason for his renouncement.

The last part, the last scene in particular, with the members of the party clearly shows Jutka as a symbolic figure of the Popular College youngsters. Returning to the starting point, the battle plan seems childish and unserious, but the policeman, Kozma calms the disappointed Jutka down: “You can still be college secretary, even Minister.” However simple this last sentence is, it expresses the officer’s perception about the political regime – no matter how radical you had been, you could still be promoted. Or even worse, the more aggressive you were, the more probable you become a leader.

Even if there are some unmistakable similarities outlined between the 1968 and the NÉKOSZ students, at this point it turns out that there is no total correspondence. Jancsó, when describing Paris in the abovementioned text, uses the term atmosphere several times with a slightly critical overtone. I would suggest this is the key for understanding his viewpoint on 1968 based on this film. He already saw what had happened to the hopes of Popular College youngsters, how certain people got integrated in the regime. The sense of 1968 remains more of an atmosphere, revealing the essence of being young and revolutionary, something which Jancsó lived through being a NÉKOSZ member, in which he became disillusioned. This complexity is articulated through the presentation of the plot in dances, songs and speeches; while to a certain extent he, as a director, remains an outsider, he treats all the groups and individuals with a lot of empathy, even sympathy.

The director’s distant position gets more sentimental, when it comes to folk culture. Laci invites folk musicians and dancers to unify different people, and it really works, even if only for a certain period of time. The potential of pure folk culture is presented as equally accessible for everyone, something that everyone knows and enjoys. However, the emphasis is on its temporary nature, as, after all, folk culture can also be ideologized to a harmful extent, so it can only be a pure and unharmful solution to a certain degree.

In Fényes szelek, a complex universe of experiences and ideas appears; fruitful in its controversies, nuanced in its argument. This film outlines Jancsó’s viewpoint on the general dynamics of power, on particular political situations, reflecting upon the individual driven by the mass and in reverse.

[1] Jancsó Miklós: Párizs ’68. Zsebünkben a bölcsek köve. Filmvilág (2008) pp. 12-13. http://filmvilag.hu/xereses_aktcikk_c.php?&cikk_id=9374&gyors_szo=%7C%7CJancs%F3%7CMikl%F3s%7CJancs%F3+Mikl%F3s&start=0 (date of actual download: 2021. 05. 03.) (translation by Babos Anna)

[2] Szekfű András: Fényes szelek, fújjátok! Jancsó Miklós filmjeiről. Budapest: Magvető Könyvkiadó, 1974. p. 92.