Miklos Jancso: God Walks Backwards

A later film from Jancso, dating from 1991 and very topical at
that. It deals very specifically with the fall of Communism as
embodied by the Soviet coup against Gorbachev of that same
year. Jancso was nothing if not au courant; God Walks Backwards
is dizzying in its simultaneous immediacy and depthless irony.

Most of the film takes place in and around a mostly empty mansion
staked with television screens and cameras, as the old Communist
guard, newly-minted democrats, and hedonistic, cynical youth play out
the end of Communism as a farce. The democrats are hypocrites, denying
their past complicity to buy into the latest set of rhetoric that will
keep them in power. The hard-liners are clueless and pathetic; they
tremble just as the leaders of the coup did. And the youth walk around
with a video camera and a silent, naked woman in tow (sexist, yes, but
too true), shooting the action as though it were for nothing but their
own entertainment. Jancso’s long shots pass over the television
screens that present both the action in the mansion and the concurrent
broadcasts of the Soviet coup. A tank rolls into the yards with a rock
star on top (and that naked woman again), and these “democrats” kill
everyone, including the youth.

It is the most effective presentation of Debordian spectacle
in film that I have ever seen, revealing Michael Haneke as the amateur shock artiste that he is, and more remarkable given that Jancso
abandoned his more classicist leanings to adopt an uglier, harsher
contemporary style, all electricity and hum. (Though shot on film, it
often looks amazingly video-like.) There are the obvious points about
the inevitable hypocrisy of the transition from Communism to something
else and of the emptying of the assorted rhetoric. The fragmentation
brought by perestroika is there too, in more comprehensible form (to
me, at least) than in Kira Muratova’s href=http://waggish.org/2005/03/kira_muratova_the_asthenic_syn.html>The
Asthenic Syndrome. For such a blatantly political and allegorical
film, Jancso never does bring a polemic to the table, and the final
self-reflexive scene, in which the actors and crew themselves are
subsumed first by decadence and then by machine gun fire, is Jancso’s
acknowledgement that such sincerity could never be: they too are an
instrumental part of the joke.

Leave a Reply