Friday, March 2, 2007

The Red and the White, Hungary, 1968

This film takes place in Russia around 1919 during the Bolshevik Revolution. Linear plot motivation does not play an important role in this film. Instead, it showcases the violent rituals of war with a cold and distant visual style. The director makes the viewer consider the absurdity of human violence against a quiet landscape. Nihilism pervades the screen as the director stripes away contextualization and codes that prevent the spectator from distinguishing protagonists and individuals. Mostly composed of long shots, the film impedes identification by the spectator to characters by placing the camera far away. Because there is no point of identification, the spectator is left with no sense of emotional involvement. No psychology of the characters is given, making it difficult to determine why characters are motivated to make certain decisions and action. Even if there are sparse moments of individual choice, in the larger military context, they are trivial and meaningless.

It is a lot about patterns of simultaneous chaos and form—the actions of soldiers reminiscent of a game with arbitrary rules. The film refuses to give the spectator a narrative pattern and instead draws attention to the arbitrariness of actions as characters are randomly killed on screen. The only uniting factor among all the male characters that provide a sense of order in the film is a ritual of no mercy. However, while the rituals of executions are presented as formal and ordered actions, they are entirely arbitrary and meaningless. All the men are forced to obey arbitrary capricious rules, making them all the harsher because they are empty.

The film is compelling because of its cold and abstract depiction of otherwise traumatic and extremely violent events. The cold distancing is anti-war and is a subversion of the war genre, as it becomes an alienating spectacle with vapid characters, no point of identification or emotional involvement. It is like being dragged around by a platoon to witness the horrors of war without becoming involved with it. “An absurd comedy without humor.”


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