Monday, May 13, 2013

MY WAY HOME (Miklós Jancsó , 1964)

Something about the images of war haunts and fascinates Joseph, a wide-eyed 17-year-old partisan who wanders across the Hungarian plains on his way home in the final days of  Second World War. He lingers in a war-torn landscape, and seems uninterested to continue his journey home. What he is bound to experience in transit, however,  is not the scenic route but bewildering and harsh lessons,  as he gets variously caught in a series of internments and arrests by renegade Cossacks, various bandits, and the advancing Red Army. 

As a prisoner of war, Joseph experiences firsthand the horrors and absurdities of war. He comes close to death as he is lumped together with common bandits who are promptly executed by the Soviets. Released on one of his captors' pure whims, he wanders around trying to find armaments left behind and marvels at reconnoitering planes. Caught wearing a Nazi uniform, he is captured by Soviet troops but is spared by virtue of his Hungarian documents. Instead he is sent to a cow farm manned by a wounded soldier who is his coeval. He becomes the soldier’s assistant in milking the cows, and although they hardly speak each other’s language at first, they form a fast and strong friendship. 

This brotherly bond between the two is captured in a series of scenes of blissful idyll: shooting at frogs with pistols, toppling Greek statues, chasing after bathing girls, goofing around among ruins. All manner of play enjoyed by teenage boys. Young Joseph also starts to learn the foreigner’s language and absorbs his thinking, no more apparent than in a scene where he puts on the soldier’s uniform and pretends to be one of the Red Army in order to get help for his bedridden friend. Reminiscent of the freeze-frame of Antoine Doinel that ends Truffaut’s 400 Blows, a close-up of young Joseph’s bewildered face ends this movie, coinciding with the end of war, his own freedom marred by a rude awakening that he must flee away from. 

Filmed in stark black and white, My Way Home reflects many of the themes to be found in Jancso’s other films set in strife, namely Round-Up and Red and White: the brutalization, barbarity and nightmare logic of war. But it isn't so much a bleak and pessimistic view of war depicted here as it is one of frank naturalism; few virtues can be attributed to war, after all. It's been told many times before but the retelling here is done with little comment: the depiction of war's aberrations happens without warning, not lingered on and sometimes observed in long shots that remove a sentimental meditation on them. Some of the characters are almost ciphers -- without faces and names -- caught in the sad dynamics of violence and aggression. What remains in the final reckoning are the human casualties, those abused and dehumanized by the changing vicissitudes of war. To the victor, as the old adage goes, the spoils. Jancso, however, does not dwell on the dark nature of conflict, as the camera's focus levels on an uncommon friendship between captor and prisoner. The scenes involving the two boys evoke the most fascination, the mine-littered Hungarian plains receding farther and farther back into an almost forgotten backdrop.

Title in French: Mon Chemin
reviewed: September 10, 2006

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