Saturday, October 01, 2011

Jön az öcsém / [My Brother Is Coming]

[Il cadetto Jön] (HU 1919) D: Mihály Kertész [Michael Curtiz]; SC: Iván Siklósi, based on the poem “Jön az öcsém”(1919) by Antal Farkas; cast: Oszkár Beregi (The Brother), József Kürthy (The Man), Ilonka Kovács [Lucy Doraine] (the Woman), Ferkó Szécsi (The Child); filmed: 3.1919; released: 3.4.1919 (Budapest); 35 mm, 235 m, 11’ (18 fps); print source: Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchívum / Hungarian National Film Archive, Budapest. Hungarian intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter A. Buchwald, 1 Oct 2011.

Miguel A. Fidalgo (GCM Catalogue): "On 21 March 1919 Béla Kun seized power, to transform Hungary into the world’s second communist republic. The once-proud Magyar nation, a huge kingdom ruled by an Austrian monarch, was transformed to a strict and brutal pro-Soviet regime based on collectivism. This “Republic of Councils” lasted 133 dark days. When it ended, virtually every one of the filmmakers who had raised Hungarian cinema to a level unthinkable only seven years before – when Kertész had released Ma és holnap (Today and Tomorrow), regarded as the first movie of its history - had gone into exile or been reduced to a mere cog in the subsequent political order. Many – including Korda and Béla Lugosi – were obliged to emigrate since they had enthusiastically embraced Kun’s cultural guidelines and accepted official roles in the new power apparatus."

"The new communist state forced the nationalization of production and exhibition, demanding a cinema with “a unique and common direction”. Kertész remained oblivious to the turmoil that erupted in the early weeks, while conforming unfailingly to the propaganda ideas of the new regime. Strictly applying Bolshevik theories, films whose themes were not consistent with their populist ideas were cancelled, and all film magazines were closed down. Lured into the gears of the system, Kertész was appointed member of the Actors’ Examiner Jury. Soon he was at the reins of Jon az öcsém, a short film of uncompromising communist ideology which adapted an incendiary propaganda poem by Antal Farkas which had appeared in the March 26th issue of the journal Népszava (People’s Voice). The filming was completed very quickly, within days, with a rational economy of means, but also with everything necessary for so great a goal. Oszkár Beregi and József Kürthy, with whom he had previously collaborated, played the two brothers of the story, while Kertész’s own wife Ilonka (the future Lucy Doraine, who had till now had a discreet involvement in his films) was the worker’s wife who witnesses the triumphant return of her revolutionary brother-in-law. Jön az öcsém is a fascinating example of the didactic possibilities of cinema and how swiftly the new totalitarian regimes discovered them. The simple script relates a story not far removed from Kun’s own, showing the hero wounded at the battlefront, taken prisoner, and learning in prison the proletarian reality that allows him, once escaped, to return to harangue the masses and lead the revolution. His waiting family is rewarded with the rise from the modest house they inhabit at the beginning of the story to the luxurious mansion at the end, from whose windows they watch the triumphant proletarian parade. The political and propaganda intent of the film is undeniable, and Kertész emphasizes it without subtlety, using a profusion of intertitles for the text of the poem: “Do you hear his voice? Like thunder! / See his eyes glittering with rage! / Look, his arm moves rocks - / And this strength was trampled and injured?” Built on 26 shots and 10 intertitles, the simplicity and economy of its staging (an inevitable consequence of the speed with which it was filmed) makes use of static shots of heightened iconography: silhouettes against a bright and pristine sky, with waving flags, diagonal lines that depict the direction of movement of the shot, and a very strong intent to engage the viewer in the message. Its propaganda effectiveness is undeniable, as well as Kertész’s skill in fulfilling the required objective."

"Jon az öcsém was released on April 3rd, barely two weeks after the Bolshevik seizure of power. After that Kertész supervised the newsreels of the May Day parades, and participated in propaganda programs. But the communist regime began to disintegrate even before it was established. On 1 August Kun fled, and on 6 August Romanian troops occupied Budapest. By November the Romanians had been replaced by the National Army under the rightist Miklós Horthy, who was declared regent in 1920 and would subsequently be the ally of Hitler. None of this was witnessed by Kertész. Completely alien to the communist ideology, personally and artistically ambitious, he had not hesitated to accept the offer of Alexander Kolowrat, owner of Sascha-Film, and, with Ilonka and her daughter Katalin, left his homeland overnight for Vienna and a new life. He never returned." Miguel A. Fidalgo

AA: Revisited Michael Curtiz's final Hungarian film in which one can stretch one's imagination and find connections with Curtiz's rebel figures incarnated by Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley... Beautifully restored in 1999 in Budapest from challenging sources. The performances are so stilted that I doubt this was credible as propaganda.

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