Jancso grew up in the Hungarian countryside and developed there an interest in folk art that exercised a strong influence on his films. He studied law and ethnography at the University of Kolozsvar and, after a period as a Soviet prisoner-of-war toward the end of World War II, he graduated from the Academy of Theater and Film Art in 1950.
His earliest films were documentaries that conformed to the official requirements of the period, and this was also largely true of his first two features. With Szegenylegenyek (The Round-Up) in 1965, however, he abandoned almost completely the dogmas of socialist realism both in theme and style. Set in the aftermath of the Hungarian War of Independence in 1848, it adopts the "Aesopian" tactics favored by directors of the time of using a period setting to comment obliquely on current political and social trends. This was followed by Csillagosok, katonak (The Red and the White, 1967), set in postrevolutionary Russia in 1918, as small groups of pro- and anti-Soviet soldiers skirmished continuously. Csend es kiaitas (Silence and Cry, 1967) is set in Hungary in 1919 following the suppression of the short-lived Communist government that seized power after the end of World War I. These films attracted international attention, despite their obscure (to non-Hungarians) subject matter, for their astonishing visual power and the universality of their themes. The cruelties, humiliations, and atrocities inflicted on their victims by those in power are presented in a cold, almost impersonal manner, controlled by rigorously formal framing and complex camerawork.
Over much of the next decade Jancso divided his time between Hungary and Italy, producing a series of films that continued his investigations into the nature of repressive political power and how to resist it, while moving toward a style that is often purely symbolic and ritualistic, relying heavily on intricately choreographed and lengthy sequence shots. The finest film of this period is acknowledged to be Meg ker a nep (RedPsalm, 1971), set during a period of peasant agitation for land reform at the end of the nineteenth century.
With Szornyek evadja (Season of Monsters, 1987) Jancso moved to a contemporary setting and to visual motifs based on ubiquitous television screens that record the action and also present different perspectives on it. The themes of such films as jezus Krisztus horoszkopja (Jesus Christ's Horoscope, 1988) and Kek Duna keringo (Blue Danube Waltz, 1992) challenge the assumption that freedom from Soviet control in the "New Hungary'' will automatically end corruption and the abuse of political power. After returning to documentaries for most of the 1990s, Jancso resumed feature filmmaking in 1998 with a series of satirical and anarchic comedies. These have proved the most popular of his films to date within Hungary, and the director has been adopted as a guide and inspiration by a new generation of filmmakers.
Igy jottem (My Way Home, 1965), Szegenylegenyek (The Round-Up, 1965), Csillagosok, katonak (The Red and the White, 1967), Csend es kiciltcis (Silence and Cry, 1967), Fenyes szelek (The Confrontation, 1969), Meg ker a nep (Red Psalm, 1971), Szerelmem, Elektra (Electra, My Love, 1974), Zsarnok szive, avagy Boccaccio Magyarorszagon (The Tyrant's Heart, also known as Il Cuore del tirrano, 1981), Jezus Krisztus horoszkopja (Jesus Christ's Horoscope, 1988), Keek Duna keringoo (Blue Danube Waltz, 1992), Utolsoe vacsora az Arabs Szurkenel (Last Supper at the Arabian Grey Horse, 2001)
Bachman, Gideon. ''Jancso Plain.'' Sight and Sound 43
(Autumn 1974): 217-221. Horton, Andrew James. ''The Aura of History.'' Kinoeye 3, no. 3 (2003).
Houston, Penelope. ''The Horizontal Man.'' Sight and Sound
38 (Summer 1969): 116-120. Petrie, Graham. ''Miklos Jancso: Decline and Fall?'' In
Politics, Art and Commitment in the East European Cinema, edited by David W. Paul, 189-210. London: Macmillan, 1983.
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approach to produce a series of "pseudodocumentaries" in which an actual incident was recreated using nonactors whose own lives resembled those of the original people involved. Filmregeny (Film novel, Istvan Darday, 1977) is perhaps the best-known example of this style, which was also adopted in the early films of Bela Tarr (b. 1955), such as Csaladi tuzfeszek (Family Nest, 1979). Other trends of the period involved a closer examination of the 1950s and 1956 in particular, with Pal Gabor's (1932-1987) Angi Vera (1978), Szerencses Daniel (Daniel Takes a Train, Pal Sandor, 1983), Peter Gothar's (b. 1947) Megall az ido (Time Stands Still, 1982), and the first of Marta Meszaros's (b. 1931) four "Diary" films, Naplo gyermekeimnek (Diary for My Children, 1984) enjoying considerable international success. Meanwhile, Szindbad (Sindbad, Zoltan Huszarik, 1971), Meztelen vagy (The Legend about the Death and Resurrection of Two Young Men, Imre Gyongyossy, 1971), and Kutya eji dala (The Dog's Night Song, Gabor Body, 1983), though not ignoring social issues, presented them in dreamlike, almost surrealistic fashion. And controversial topics such as lesbianism and incest were broached in Makk's Egymasra nezve (Another Way, 1982) and Visszaesok (Forbidden Relations, Zsolt Kezdi-Kovacs, 1983), respectively.
Increasing financial stringency throughout the 1980s led several directors to make co-productions with other European countries. With the exception of Istvan Szabo's Central European trilogy, beginning with the Oscar®-winning Mephisto (1981), few of these films were successful either financially or artistically.
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