The Round-Up

The more things change, the more they stay the same: this mournful “historical epic” is based on a bloody 1848 crackdown on outlaws and revolutionaries, but Jancsó's concern is not the past, but how terror and oppression continue in the present. On a flat, featureless Hungarian plain seemingly as vast as infinity, a white-walled prison has been built and quickly filled with the darkened bodies of men. “Find us a man who has killed more than you, and you will live,” promises a guard to one prisoner, but there is no escape here; a bravura scene in which hardened toughs, watching soldiers whip a naked woman, leap to their deaths rather than listen to her cries suggests a cruelty beyond reason. Little background is given; the only things that exist are prison, guards, and prisoners, and the constant interchange between the powerful and the powerless. J. Hoberman called the film “boldly stylized . . . a synthesis of Antonioni, Bresson, and Welles.”

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