A short excerpt from the booklet essay by Graham Petrie.
The Confrontation, was Jancsó's first film in colour and draws on his own experiences during the attempt in 1947 to establish 'Peoples' Colleges' in Hungary that would make the university system more accessible to working class students and more open to new ideas and curricula. Despite its setting in the past, however, the film obviously reflects the student revolts of 1968 in France, the United States and elsewhere, with their very similar demands. Much of the film (in contrast to the earlier ones, where dialogue was largely minimal, consisting mainly of commands and interrogations) involves lengthy debates on tactics between extremist and radical elements among the students and those more inclined to compromise. The visual and aural styles of the film move away from the bleak realism of the black-and-white films towards what is in many respects a musical, with scenes of co-ordinated, even choreographed movement, as the students link hands and charge their opponents, or join together to dance in a celebratory circle, while the songs that recur throughout the film range from Marxist and revolutionary 'classics' to Hungarian folk songs. The constantly moving camera was to become Jancsó's stylistic trademark for much of the remainder of his career.
While the earlier films study the mechanics of oppression and the victory of the oppressors, The Confrontation begins a process of examining the tactics and beliefs necessary if a revolution is ever to succeed that continues throughout Jancsó's films of the 1970s and beyond. The debate, basically between those led by a young woman named Jutka who proclaim the necessity of violence, and those who prefer compromise and negotiation (led by a young man, Laci), is saved from potential sterility by the way in which the conflicts are acted out physically and energetically by both sides. The main action takes place in the courtyard of a monastery where the youthful revolutionaries attempt, partly by physical intimidation and partly by attempts at intellectual debate, to impose their own views on a group of young students of much the same age as themselves. The intellectual debates get nowhere, as Jutka poses unanswerable questions such as "What is the role of personality in history?" to her bewildered opponents, and then, irritated by their inability to respond to these, announces that "There's no democracy for the enemies of democracy", and is on the point of ordering that the pupils' heads be shaved and their books burned, when she is reminded that this is exactly what the Nazis did to their victims. One of the Jewish pupils also points out that the priests protected him and many other Jews during the Nazi period, and then sings a song about the Babylonian captivity that silences further demands for reprisals against the priests.
The film raises the question of whether the students actually achieve or change anything by their actions. Are they perhaps playing at revolution, while the real power belongs to the police who appear at various stages in the film and occasionally arrest, or at least attempt to arrest, some of the students and seem to be the source of final authority? And is Jutka, despite her fanaticism and extremism, sympathetic as an idealist, however misguided, whose actions have a purity and strength that is more attractive than the cynicism of the authorities, one of whom admits to Laci at one point that they are concerned only to retain power at all costs and by any means.
The problem of how to challenge and overthrow established power rather than submitting to it becomes central to the next stage of Jancsó's work, while the visual style becomes less and less realistic, moving towards symbolic and ritualistic action and characterisation, and relying heavily on intricately choreographed and lengthy sequence shots. Jancsó seems to be asking questions in this film, rather than answering them, and this is a process that continues in his subsequent work.
Graham Petrie’s complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD release.
A short excerpt from the booklet
Sight & Sound by Michael Brook
iD Film by Michael Pattison
Cinematic Investiations by Harriet Warman
Subtitled Online by Karen Rogerson
CineVue by Ben Nicholson
MovieMail by Michael Brooke
DVD Beaver by Eric Cotenas
Close-Up Film by Colin Dibben
The Digital Fix by Clydefro Jones
(i) 1968 - Year of Revolution
(ii) Images of Power and the Power of Images: The films of Miklós Jancsó at Kinoeye
(iii) Interview with writer Gyula Hernádi
(iv) The history of Hungarian dance
(v) Hungary 1944 - 1953
(vi) Jancsó's Hungarian website