Miklós Jancsó's battlefield précis, summarized by Gene Hackman's football comment in Night Moves ("Nobody's winning. One side's just losing slower than the other"). A map's flatness gives way to the screen's depth of field, horsemen galloping towards the lens: The Volga River in 1919 Ukraine, the Civil War after the Revolution. It's the Soviet-aiding Reds versus the counter-revolutionary Whites, to Jancsó it's just a matter of uniforms paraded and doffed off, shirts and skins in a series of mathematical skirmishes. The first tour de force is downright Tarkovskian, a slightly-elevated camera tracking a White in and around the riverbank as a fellow soldier is captured and unceremoniously executed by the Reds, three minutes of tersely gliding choreography. Another long-take maneuver has a Red fugitive and his beloved caught near the marsh, he's made to sing a Russian song while the woman's small nude figure waits in the distance, then marched from foreground to long-shot into the waters, where he's bludgeoned (four and a half minutes). The ballroom in the woods -- nurses rounded up and asked to waltz with each other at gunpoint -- is Jancsó's one concession to outright surrealism, the absurdity of war to him lies rather in the unveiling of its numbed mechanism, with oppressor becoming oppressed and then back, endlessly. The dialogue consists of barked orders ("Line up!" "Get undressed and run!" "Stand there!"), there are close-ups yet the characters remain faceless: Shunning viewer identification, refusing to have an outraged Kirk Douglas pounding his fist on the table, and courting the tedium of the senseless operation, this is one of the few truly anti-war pictures. Jancsó avails himself of Ford's horizons, yet here the final charge of the cavalry amounts to marching down a hill into a vast, deadly geometric pattern. The young Red officer (András Kozák) raises his saber at the ravages, dutifully but emptily -- is he the same one who earlier wondered if "a man can fight and still be human"? With József Madaras, Tibor Molnár, Jácint Juhász, and Krystyna Mikolajewska. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce