Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 18, July 26, 1976.
The standard at this years festival was almost uniformly very high. I saw no mediocre films, and only two which were tenible. Top honours go to (in order of screening): Miklos Jansco's Elektreia, Jean Jacques Andrien's The Son of AMR is Dead, Maximilian Schell's The Pedestrian and Alain Tanner's The Middle of the World. Claude Chabrol gains two wooden spoons for NADA and The way to Pleasure.
Nearly all the films were concerned with some combination of politics, sexual politics, love, the individual at odds with himself and his world, and social relationships. Which is to say that thematically they remain at the centre of twentieth century art.
The most envigorating aspect of the festival was the amazingly high technical standard. Aguirre the Wrath of God, the Son of AMR is Dead, Elektreia. Stavisky, and The Pedestrian all displayed superb camerawork Strong colour was very much use, especially in Ludwig-Requiem for a Virgin King, Aguirre, and Stavisky; and inversely the black and white of Bar Salon and washed out greens and browns of Wrong Movement were used to very good effect. Editing was outstanding in Wr Mysteries of the Organism and The Pedestrian. Ludwig made brilliant use of Wagner's opera, and The Pedestrian and Wrong Movement achieved an uncannily haunting effect with their scores. The melodramatic use of Italian opera in The Seduction of Mimi was also excellent.
The Son of AMR is Dead contains the most unnerving vocal soundtrack I can remember hearing, even though it has been judiciously subtitled so that only the thematically relevant dialogue is understandable. To give an example: at one point the protagonist is talking into a public telephone. There is muffled conversation in the background. Slowly, his voice becomes unsynchronized with the image: thoughts have replaced words. When a similar shot is established later in the film the dominant voice this time belongs to someone else off camera in the room. The while film is controlled by a subtle montage of voices which lead the protagonist to realisations about himself which are never stated but always viscerally present in the film.
Elektreia (Hungary. 1975)
This recreation of the Electra legend from a play by co-screenwriter Laszlo Gymko is a superb combination of classical Greek tragedy and revolutionary propoganda. It is visually spellbinding, thematically overpowering, technically faultless, and just thirteen shots long.
On a barren plain with just one openaired building hundreds of people are dancing in sombre lines. Riders herd horses, galloping from place to place. A fire-eater belches fire, a man dances with a sword, dwarfs walk in a line banging cymbols and drums, peacocks strut, doves flutter, naked and semi-naked men and women with painted bodies adopt poses, men walk in single file cracking whips in unison, a woman in blue wanders.
It is the day of "The Feast of Justice" and the woman is Electra. Aegisthos, the ki kings, appears with shaven head and fear in his body and his eyes, He is accompanied by a tall handsome courtier, and together they tell Electra to forget. Her father Agamemnon was murdered for giving the people freedom, which they could not use. Aegisthos the murderer claims justice for his action in the name of wise government. But Electra awaits the return of her lost brother Orestes who will avenge the death of their father. While she remembers, noone can forget.
The celebration gathers momentum and a sacrifice is performed: the victim collapses in a pool stained with blood in which naked maidens stand, their backs painted with grey and white patterns. It is announced that on this day no-one may fear to tell the truth, and the people praise Aegisthos for successful crops and fruitful marriages. Electra is married to a dwarf. With a white veil floating over her she accepts all humiliation, she waits.
Suddenly a column of red smoke is seen billowing over the plain. Underneath it a small group are advancing. There is a man in a red cape, riders on horseback and a minstrel in a wide-brimmed black felt hat who sings songs of change. They bring news of Restes' death. Electra kills their leader, and for this is given the choice of submission to Aegisthos or death for herself. She remains defiant, and the messenger rises to reveal himself as Orestes, the unconquerable liberator. Aegisthos is rejected by his people and brought to judgement. His courtier performs naked with a woman the beautiful dance of death. Their bodies moving in perfect symmetry, they transform what was once an aesthetic celebration of regal splendour into a profound experience of death. Aegisthos and the courtier are then killed. Electr and Orestes have fulfilled their duty and shoot as each other, collapsing only to rise again and fly away in a red helicopter. They return and dance with the people.
Janos Kende's brilliantly handled camera is forever on the move, tracking in wide areas and panning as it goes, zooming in to examine and out to reveal, twisting and turning back on itself, seemingly never following a straight line, and always moving with a purpose. By the use of this technique instead of the usual cutting, we are completely entranced by the flow of the action, never knowing what new spectacle will be revealed and constantly aware that just as in Greek drama everything one sees has been pre-ordained.
Because the action and dialogue (mainly chants and interior monologues) elucidate the background as the story unfolds, and because Jansco assumes a prior knowledge of Euipides' play, we are able to follow the plot of the film and at the same time appreciate its relationship with the original tale. By eliminating Clytemnestra (who was originally responsible for Agamemnon's death) an overt political theme is established; and by marrying Electra to a dwarf instead of Euripides' good peasant, the deformed nature of man in bondage is exposed: the dwarf is both a symbol of Aegisthos' subjects and of the petty nature of Aegisthos' power.
The English title (meaning 'things revolving around Electra') provides a verbal link between the classic cyclical concerns of the legend and the contemporary revolutionary theme and the flowing action and camera movement reinforce this.
Although Elektreia works primarily on a visual level, the soundtrack has much to contribute. The sound of whips being cracked in unison, later repeated as the sound of gunfire, has a distrubing intensity. Similarly, the rumble of horses, established early in the film, achieves a horrifying significance as it becomes that of men and women running, driven on by the whips. This sound is further used for the helicopter, as a symbol of freedom.
The ending of the film, from when Electra and Orestes shoot each other onwards, initially appears to be disturbingly over indulgent. That it is not the people but their actions that matter we have already realised, and that permanent revolution is Jansco's predominant theme is now also clear. The revolutionary songs, the gaiety of the dances, the red helicopter, and the story of the fire-Bird which rises each morning bringing beauty and freedom and life to the people, and dies each nigh to be reborn in even more splendid form (told by Electra), all reinforce this theme. The justification for these sequences is that we are not to forget we are watching more than a contemporary version of a Greek legend, that this is more than an aesthetic masterpiece.
Of course, such justification may not ve valid: film art is very rarely a matter and aesthetics alone; and equally rare is the audience who will accept overt and simple dogma when the artist has established a more probing means of communication within the body of the work concerned. Certainly there is no rule, and if the same high artistic standard can be maintained throughout, blatant reiteration of the message is easily acceptable. Jansco failed in only two small ways. As a symbol of revolution the unassumingly handsome Orestes lacked the depth of the less 'beautiful but more fascinating Electra. And towards the end we are subjected to about ten seconds of happy, laughing, running, people. Taken on its own they might be expected to start singing 'It's the real thing at any moment. But these are minor faults.
Elektreia is an extraordinarily rivetting piece of cinema-drama, and in that the brilliant camera-work and direction were quite unlike anything else it remains the high light of the festival.
Aguirre, The Wrath of God
A film packed with political fire, as a group of mutinous conquistadors travel on hopeless one-way journey in search of El Dorado somewhere in South America.
The church was exposed for what it really is - an agent for the most obnoxious crimes throughout history - and in this case aiding bloodthirsty colonists whose guns and whips are still being felt throughout South America today.
A magnificent film with great power. Visually it was unlike anything I have seen before. The most beautiful film in the festival. Directed by Werner Hertzog.
Everyman for Himself and God Against
Another Herzog film. It is based on the true story of Kasper Hauser who was denied any human contact or movement for the first 17 years of his life. When he is finally released he is totally without culture and through the attempts to educate Kasper, Herzog exposes the irrational bourgeois society, who try to shove God and other senseless rituals down Kasper's throat. Every bit as good as Aguirre.
Frederick Wiseman's documentary of state bureaucracy versus the destitute. It is almost three hours of actual scenes within the Welfare department building No narration, comment or outside scene is offered throughout the whole film. It was extremely tiring and boring and yet those who stayed till the end had more than enough time to think deeply about the subject. Bureaucracy is killing humanity, especially in a time of economic hardship and unemployment.
W.R. Mysteries of the Organism
This film billed as the high point of the festival, possibly fell flat with a New Zealand audience, since we are ignorant of the theoretical discussions of the revolution, which form so much a part of the lives of people in other countries.
The film set out to deliberately criticise any point of view that is held dogmatically. Dusan Makavejev is especially critical of the way Marxism has become a religion with many people and compares what some states do with it to decadent western advertising (Ma(r)x Factor).
It is in part a response to the work of Wilhelm Reich, who for example was especially critical of the way the Russian revolution suppressed the importance of sexual freedom in its development.
It is a deliberately ambiguous film which was cleverly designed so that no one could go out of the theatre smugly confident of his or her own beliefs. Although New Zealanders I suspect, owing to their general apathy, and judging from audience reactions to many things in the film, could do that anyway.
People of the Metro
Director, Jaromil Jar is, made three little stories of the workers on the Prague Metro which come together in an amazingly warm and enthusiastic film. The stones were very ordinary and everday and yet it is an incredibly entertaining film. The accompanying music was especially brilliant.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the film was the unusual clarity with which Jans has enlightened us about Czek society. Very similar to the brilliant (and mistitled) film Loves of a Blond by the then Czek. Milos Forman.
For me this was the high-point of the festival. A group of Leftist terrorists conduct a ruthless kidnapping. The state, through its agents, massacre the group after they have surrendered. Claude Chabrol's conclusion is "State terrorism and leftist terrorism although their aims are different, are the twin jaws of the same trap." Although this film was a valuable lesson to revolutionaries throughout the world, it lacked the fire, impact and ability to hit deeply into the subconscious, which I am seeing as more and more important if a film is to alter peoples attitudes. Chabrol is too much of a realist, unlike the surrealist Luis Bunnuel who has been much more effective as a revolutionary.
The second Chabrol film in the festival Une Portie de Plaisir was a complete washout. It was a re-enactment of the scriptwriter's slow break-up with his wife. Apart from the odd stab at the bourgeoisie (especially young dope smoking music listening parties) this film, as with almost all private love-affair movies, left me completely indifferent.
The exchange between Neil Rowe and Mervyn Thompson has been postponed until next week because of lack of space.
— Reviews Editor)