Be it, Slovak, Hungarian or countries in South East Asia, their cinematic output requires a degree of cultural and historical context, with the addition of the former Czechoslovakia these marginalised nations make up the DNA of Second Run’s remit. Nuances naturally occur but the consistencies in these nations are modern histories demarcated by violent government dictatorships or the occupation of the Soviet state. Learning of modern histories hidden behind media bias is fascinating; all the same, variation is necessary and that is where titles like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon or new release Electra, My Love by Hungarian director Miklos Jancso become all the more important to second run’s brand.
Electra, My Love tells the story of Electra and her people’s oppression at the hand of Aegisthus, the tyrant who fifteen years earlier murdered her father, Agamemnon, in a power grab. Electra is therefore filled with the urge to kill Aegisthus, along with all the other people who support his tyrannical regime. Further events transpire with the return of Electra’s Brother, Orestes, and an eventual coup to rid the people of this tyrant. Under Jancso’s direction, gone are the all the trappings of Greek mythology outside of costume, opting instead to relocate events to a near-vacant field in the Hungarian countryside.
Outside of the emergence of a wave of household names, 1970s cinema was home to a class of revolutionary filmmakers the world over. That revolutionary spirit is self-evident in the films presented by Second Run, with their European releases often from countries and under regimes in which expressing political ideas was forbidden. Such revolutionary behaviour was nothing new to Jancso with earlier films such as Red Psalm or the Confrontation eloquently arousing the outrage of the people. In 1974’s Electra My Love he took that a step further with a film comparable to Fellini’s picture of Roman myth reimagined through a near dystopian surrealism – Satyricon (1969).
Both Fellini’s and Jancso’s films take an earthy and unreal approach to myth but that is where their commonality ends. Electra My Love can be compared to many seemingly alien films, whether it’s the aforementioned Italian surrealism, Czech new wave, performance art, mythology or even the dance film, but even then the full image cannot truly be processed without getting into the minute details. Jancso takes an approach to the long take (discussed in the fascinating accompanying documentary, the evolution of the long take) in a way that falls closer to the oeuvre of Roy Anderson than the dramatic, modern notion of long-take cinematography. While less flamboyant than the modern concept, János Kende’s camera also courts the same transcendence as that achieved in Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark. That may sound like an awfully evasive and self-contradictory comment, but it’s also the only real way to describe what Electra, My Love is.
From the camera flowing down the beautiful wingspan of a peacock to the 74 minutes that follow, the film is broken up into 12 uninterrupted camera movements, but the fascinating artistry of that comes from that which is contained therein. Jancso is dealing with a cast of hundreds, managing the core cast who move the narrative forward while simultaneously directing a grander supporting cast moving around this isolated locale dancing with a coordination as pure as a school of fish. The spectacle beggars belief, with all the moving parts flowing in dance and beautiful unison effectively putting all of dance cinema to absolute shame. It boggles the brain to consider the mechanics of the shoot back in 1974.
If the pure spectacle of these pieces and camera movements weren’t enough, there is the all-pervading subtext. The arrangements of bodies, both static and flowing, have been choreographed to evoke the despotism of leaders presented in a way a world away from the muck and mire of Hungary’s reality. Electra tiptoeing her way around countless bodies is something to observe, these were people who only moments before were contorting to the rigours of chaos. Curiously, the spontaneity and lack of traditional editing make these connotations all the more prevalent. The aforementioned surrealism supplies a final scene anarchically replicated in Jones & Gilliam’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As Electra escapes the ostracizing of being labelled insane, she alongside her triumphant Brother, board a helicopter that proceeds to loop the chaos unfolding below, as if imitating the camera.
The vital message that the director is painting here is one of history; although packaged through myth and legend, such political strife and violence is destined to repeat throughout history, forever cycling. A bleak message forged in a film that will alienate more than it will delight, but no matter where you fall in that eventual Venn diagram this is a film that needs to be experienced by the curious. If there is any takeaway from the inimitable Electra, My Love it’s that the horrors of history hit with a more searing honesty by being creatively shrewd by displacing a tale to a seeming innocuous era of history than it does by being extreme for extreme’s sake