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Miklos Jancso: Winter Wind (Sirokko)

Jancso is already in my pantheon of genius directors, all the more
from coming out of the backwaters of Eastern Europe under Communism; I
can’t think of another of his contemporaries that even approaches
him. The Round-Up is a brilliant, taut exercise in Kafka-esque
consequentiality, and The Red and the White is simply one of my
favorite films of all time.

Winter Wind is not as narrative as The Round-Up, nor
does it have the formalized brutality of The Red and the White,
but it is from the same period as them and qualifies as a minor
masterpiece. The historical background, only given at the very start
of the film, is that between the two world wars, Hungary is providing
assistance to Croatian nationalist separatists who wish for an
independent Croatia separate from Yugoslavia, which in 1929 was made a
dictatorship under Serbian King
. The film takes place on the Yugoslavian-Croatian
border, where Hungarian-supported Croatian terrorists are making raids
into Yugoslavia and conducting assassinations and such. Our hero,
Marko, returns from a raid and spends the entire movie in a Hungarian
safehouse with compatriots and Hungarian officials. He distrusts them
all intensely and interrogates (or kills) them, until…well, his
fears are well-founded, that’s all I’ll say.

Marko is defined by two characteristics alone: his nationalism and
his paranoia. Any other trait has been completely subsumed into the
service of these two aspects, and he is monomaniacal in his
obsessions. (The one funny moment involves his hatred for his
compatriot’s pet dog, which has been irritating him all the time in
the safehouse. A new terrorist trainee shows up and Marko, to test his
marksmanship, tells him to shoot the dog.) He separates himself from
all the other political figures on the grounds that no one is as pure
in their fervor as he is. Everyone else is using him and his cause.

He’s right. There is never a moment where he is taken aback or
surprised; his comprehension of the situation is total, as is his
paranoia. The only people to whom he shows a degree of trust are the
wholly powerless: a handful of Croatian children whom he trains to
kill and an abused prostitute sent by the Hungarian government to
service him. (He’s not interested.)

The movie is not about development; like The Red and the
, it’s a visceral portrayal of a situation. The brilliance of
it lies in how Jancso communicates the abstract conflict between the
idealists and the realpolitik sorts with pretty much no explicit
political speech. It is conveyed through their mannerisms, their
stances, their confidences and their paranoias.


  1. Tarkovsky didn’t like Jansco too much:

    On Friday we went to the Dom Kino [House of Cinema] with Larissa and Araik and saw one and a half films by Miklós Jancsó: Hungarian Rhapsody and Allegro barbaro.

    We didn’t last until the end and we left. Simply awful — no taste, pretentiousness, ambiguity. Trite and without an iota of talent. A rabid, incompetent Paradjanov disciple.

  2. Funny to hear such intolerant remarks from the director who used to tax people’s patience like no other. With his films, not exactly unambiguous or unpretentious, such as Stalker or Nostalghia.

  3. To be fair to Tarkovsky late Jancso (Hungarian Rhapsody, etc.) is somewhat mannered and decadent before it becomes really silly with his late late films (Lord’s lantern in Budapest).
    I have to admit I still like Allegro Barbaro and Hungarian Rhapsody.

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