Electra, My Love AKA Szerelmem, Elektra [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (17th October 2016).
The Film

Based on playwright László Gyurkó's take on the Sophocles play, Electra, My Love finds Electra (A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda's Mari Töröcsik) fifteen years after the murder of her father King Agamemnon still mourning and making sure the people do not forget his unjust death. The only time she does not speak up about it is the annual ceremony in which ruler Aegisthus (The Red and the White's József Madaras) commemorates his reign which is the only time in which the people are allowed to speak the truth without fear of reprisal, demonstrating an admirable restraint since the commemoration includes a reenactment of the death of Agamemnon that portrays him as a weak ruler ("Guilty is the king who burdens his people with freedom, for simple men do not know what to do with it"). Electra is content to needle Aegisthus while awaiting the return of her brother Orestes to avenge their father while her sister Chrysothemis ('s Gabi Jobba) – married to the king's advisor Vezér (Private Vices, Public Pleasures's Lajos Balázsovits) – tries to convince her that her youth is slipping away and to forget her father. Unable to kill Electra lest the people start to suspect she has been right all along, Aegisthus and Chrysothemis portray her as insane to the people while repeatedly telling Electra and the people that Orestes is either dead or cares more about wine and women than coming back. When a young man (Mephisto's György Cserhalmi) shows up on the day of the ceremony to deliver the message that Orestes is dead, Aegisthus gloats and Electra kills the messenger (only to realize after that he is indeed Orestes). Aegisthus uses the murder as an excuse to get rid of Electra by execution, offering to spare her if she admits to the people that she was wrong about her father.

Told in a series of meticulously-choreographed long takes as the camera of János Kende (Season of Monsters) cranes and zooms through whip-cracking soldiers, nude vestal maidens, dwarves, farmers, and tradesmen as equal parts harvest rite and hippy happening, director Miklós Jancsó's avant-garde take on the Electra myth takes further liberties with Gyurkó's stage play (as adapted by Jancsó's regular collaborator Gyula Hernádi). The setting is is not ancient Argos but an open prairie fifteen years after the death of Agamemnon, his treacherous wife Clytemnestra died five years after and is seen as some sort of maternal figure by the people rather than the mistress of Aegisthus, and there is an emphasis on Electra's youth slipping away while she awaits Orestes return. However dazzling the choreography and camera movements, the film belongs to Töröcsik who smiles beatifically at her tormentors and the people even as she uses her opportunity to repent to once again ask if having peace is worth living in fear. In Gyurkó's version of the play, Electra wants revenge but Orestes wants reconciliation and ends up killing her in disagreement. In the film, Orestes rises from the dead and avenges his father before brother and sister fly away in a firebird (here a red and white fire department helicopter, shattering the sense of timelessness evoked by the mix of costumes and the pastoral setting). Like the firebird destroyed daily and born again anew each day, they are content to die and be reborn again and again until "there are no more landowners and factory owners, no more bourgeoisie or proletarians, rich or poor, oppressor or oppressed, and when no man gorges himself while another starves, once everyone is allowed to take from the basket of abundance, once everyone is equal at the table of law, once the light of intelligence shines out of every window… then and only then will there be life on Earth worthy of the name 'humanity'." Rough-hewn yet beautiful, even heavy-handed in its political discourse, Miklós Jancsó's avant-garde take on the Electra myth is thoroughly mesmerizing.

Video

Transferred from a new HD master, Second Run's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 naturally bests Facets Video's old fullscreen DVD (which should be no surprise to readers given the poor quality of the labels other titles). The image does look soft at times thanks to circumstances pointed out by the cinematographer in the disc's featurette: shooting in the winter, the problematic film stock, and the combined use of cranes and zoom lenses in conjunction with the film's long take choreography. When the camera remains static and fixed on the actors, hair and the rough-hewn textures of clothes come through as nicely as the rugged texture of the adobe buildings and rustic countryside.

Audio

The sole audio option is an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mono track in which whip cracks and music come out as pointed as the delivery of the dialogue. The English subtitle translation is optional and uses the Greek character names rather than the Hungarian adaptations seen in references (Elektra, Oresztész, Aegisztosz, and so on).

Extras

The sole video extra is "The Evolution of the Long Take" in conversation with cinematographer János Kende (29:22) in which the cinematographer recalls how he first came to work with the elder Jancsó on Silence and Cry as the director was becoming less satisfied with the slower work of regular DP Tamás Somló (The Red and the White). Jancsó started working primarily with Kende but his inexperience with color and scope had him returning to Somló for The Confrontation although Kende would shoot Jancsó's color film Winter Wind the same year in a similar long-take fashion. Before Electra, My Love, Kende had discovered a camera in France capable of holding larger capacity roles of film, allowing for longer takes, and he recalls Töröcsik frustration while trying to deliver Gyurkó's dialogue while Jancsó was shouting orders to the actors and crew while the camera was rolling along with the things Jancsó added to the film on the fly like the giant soccer ball. He briefly touches upon his subsequent work in Jancsó as well as how video assist actually seemed to impose limitations on the camerawork of their later collaborations. Peter Hames also provides an essay booklet discussing the differences between the source play and the film as well as the evolution of Jancsó's narrative and visual style.

Overall

Rough-hewn yet beautiful, even heavy-handed in its political discourse, Miklós Jancsó's avant-garde take on the Electra myth is thoroughly mesmerizing.

 


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