Magyar rapszódia (Hungarian Rhapsody) (1979)






Director:     Miklós Jancsó.

Starring:     György Cserhalmi (Zsadányi István),  Lajos Balázsovits (Zsadányi Gábor),  Gábor Koncz (Szeles-Tóth), Udo Kier (Poór),  István Bujtor (Héderváry), József Madaras (Baksa András), Anikó Sáfár (Hanna),  Zsuzsa Czinkóczi (Eszter),  István Kovács (Komáry István gróf ),  Imre Sarlai (Id. Zsadányi),  Anna Takács ,  Djoko Rosic,  Tibor Tánczos ,  Rada Rassimov,  László Horváth.

an examination of pre-revolutionary (pre-communist) Hungary around the time of World War I through the eyes of an aristocratic Captain that bonds with the peasants


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

In the days when the aristocrats dominated Hungary, some landed aristocrats founded their own private armies from their peasants.  There is a celebration of the raising of the army at the Zsadányi estate.

Fireworks go off in the night sky.  Someone shouts:  "Gentlemen!  A thousand years have passed since Hungarians settled here.  Heroically, they fought for the land, they shed their blood.  Perhaps the reason they endured every storm is because every particle of soil is saturated with their blood.  Despite constant struggle, the Hungarian people survived, did not degenerate or belie their brave forefathers.  That is why we can all be proud and if we were not Hungarians, we would wish to be Hungarians."

In the morning there is more celebration with fireworks.  A band plays and the people gather around it. Women kiss soldiers standing in formation while others sing and dance.  An old drunken Zsadányi comes forward to say to his two sons, Isvan and Gábor, and says:  "There's only one man we want for our M.P.: István Zsadányi."  The brothers have to hold their father upright.  Later the wife of the drunken man asks her son István Zsadányi, to control his father and the son says he is ashamed of the behavior of the man.  But he has to take action because his father comes stumbling over to the wife and son. Another group carry around a huge flag and shout:  "Long live the National Party." 

In a quiet section a group of socialists speak of what they must do.  The speaker says that all the other political parties are just out to advance the interests of their supporters, while the socialists support all the people. 

A little girl sitting on the shoulders of a man shouts:  "András Baksa is our man!"  Baksa says the gentry ruined the true-spirited people of the country, so they will stomp on the gentry.  He speaks out against the rich people and praises the workers.  Three carriages each with a naked woman in them pass through the middle of the crowd.  Pamphlets are thrown from the carriages for the crowd who are busy shouting for the people in the carriages.

Mrs. Zsadányi tries to gain control over her wild husband, while pranksters soak them down with water from a fire house.  In a house, the wife tells her sons that she told her husband not to meddle in politics  -- not to mix with the dirty peasants who will kill their father one day.  She urges the family to go south. 

Some cavalry men on horses push the crowd back.  István tells Baksa:  "Damn it, András Baksa.  You and your mob insulted my father. I want satisfaction as as you do on the farm."  Baksa takes his coat off and goes into the house. István takes off his coat and throws it on the ground.  He follows Baksa into the house.  Meanwhile, another man protests vociferously against the presence of the gendarmes.  For his trouble, two gendarmes beat him up.  Two peasants are dragged by the police behind their horses.  István is pushed out of the house and falls to the ground.  He shouts:  "Filthy peasants!"  Baksa comes out of the house.  Gábor gives his brother a pistol.  Another gendarme pushes Baksa back into the house and closes the door.  Now István shoots the pistol at the door until it is empty. 

Baksa lies dead on the porch of the house.  His followers are very downcast at their loss.

The Zsadányi brothers watch as the army recruits are judged fit or not fit for service.  István tells his new recruit:  "To horse!"  Later István yells for new recruit Szeles-Tóth to come over to him.  He calls the recruit an ass and an idiot.  And what's worse, he wants Szeles-Tóth to shoot his own horse, the horse he raised virtually from birth.  Szeles-Tóth shoots the poor animal and it goes down. 

There's more band playing and dancing.  István continues to train his recruits. 

Flash forward:  There's a scene wherein it looks like István has been shot in the lower back.  He falls down. 

Back to the present:  István tells Szeles-Tóth that he fought bravely.  He berates his troops for acting like cowards and fleeing from the field of battle.  Another soldier scolds István that the tone of his talk is not suitable for the situation as World War I is now over and their side won.  István just continues his plans to eliminate a number of cowards.  He has had them strip naked and now he gives the machine gunners the order to execute the men. 

Szeles-Tóth comes over to the Captain and tells him his execution order was not really carried out, "so we won't kill you.  I've been sent by the Military Council.  King Charles has capitulated." 

István is informed that a fellow referred to as "our Uncle Charlie" is waiting for him.  The uncle has now become the prime minister.  István says he can't congratulate the uncle just now.  A lieutenant known as István Komáry introduces himself to István Zsadányi.  Zsadányi insults the other István by asking which Komáry family is he from?  From the Komárys that licked the arses of the Austrians?  He then tells the lieutenant to sit down.  He tells the lieutenant that he cannot possibly help him until he has formed his corps to fight the Reds. 

István Zsadányi rides his horse up to the second floor entrance door.  He tells the officers inside:  "We must steal the Red Brigades' thunder.  Land must be given to the peasants.  National ideals must be given to the people."  The top man there, Uncle Charlie, tells the Captain that he is naive.  They have to create first universally accepted social conditions, before they can afford to deal with the peasantry  István Zsadányi says he wasn't thinking of the boors, hut of intelligent small landowners.  A lieutenant refers to the type of man István Zsadányi is thinking of, but István Zsadányi sees this as a provocation.  He tells the lieutenant that he knows he is referring to András  Baksa.  He shouts:  "An impartial court acquitted my brother and I of that charge of murder.  If you don't like it, I'll smash you face in."  Now the captain is given a note.  He reads it and then shouts:  "Victory!  The proletarian revolution has ended."  The officers and civilians celebrate the end of the proletarian revolution with singing and dancing and the firing of guns into the air.   

One man jumps from the third floor to his death.  At a party they hang two soldiers.  The women do the can-can dance.  Other men are hung elsewhere.  Still others have to play Russian roulette with a pistol to see if they live or they die.  The captain's girlfriend plays the game and is shot dead.  The captain picks her up from off a bench, carries her around and then places her body back on the bench. 

A funeral is held for the Captain's deceased girlfriend.  Her coffin is placed by a large pond.  Then it is put on a raft of reeds.  The reeds are set on fire and the raft pulled out into the middle of the pond.

Eszter was the little girl that sat on her father's shoulders and rooted for Baksa.  She is a young lady now.  Uncle Charlie says that Eszter's father was an old friend of his.  He and his wife were killed by soldiers.  The murderers are in the Captain's corps.  Their names are Lieutenants Arato-Frolich and Csenger.  He goes on to say that Eszter was tortured.  (He has Eszter show her back to the Captain.)  (Brief nudity.)  Then Uncle Charlie goes farther and says:  "The days of private corps are over.  If we want to join the family of civilized European nations, and we do want to join it, we cannot allow ourselves to be called robbers and murderers in the forums of Paris, London and New York."  One of the murderers is placed in handcuffs.  Uncle goes on to say:  "All private corps are being disbanded, including yours.  Dismiss your men and send them home.  The Regent will overlook their transgressions . . ."   He concludes by saying that they have great plans for István Zsadányi.  He will become Minister of Agriculture. 

The Captain says he will not accept the post.  He wants to be free and independent of the government, which only wants to make a puppet of him.  István Zsadányi says he will stay home and cultivate his own land. 

Szeles-Tóth, accompanied by others, tells István that they want him to serve in Count Héderváry's government.  He tells his former Captain that he will gradually introduce land reform.  István tells his one-time subordinate to go to hell.  But Szeles-Tóth is now in command and he tells his men to take him to the stables to think the matter over. 

In the stable István says that he is a prisoner in his own house.  Szeles-Tóth tells him that if he does not accept the post of Minister of Agriculture, they will take him to court and charge him with the murder of Baksa.  He then has Lt. Komáry shoot István's horse.  Next he has István's brother play Russian roulette with every second chamber empty.  The brother fires the pistol at his head and is killed. István looks at his dead brother and moves the pistol still in the dead man's hand. 

István picks up his goddaughter for a short while and then puts her back down.  He goes over to the pond and a man pushes him backward to lay on a small table.  A woman who looks like the deceased girlfriend of the Captain looks his face over.  The man at the table asks István if he will take the post?  István refuses and starts to walk away.  The woman shoots once, twice, three times as she slowly walks backwards into the pond water.  Now we see the scene of István wounded in the back and on the ground.  

Now comes a psychiatrist speaking in German.  He says that István and others want to know if István is mentally ill?  No, he is not mentally ill.  But he is a deviant.  He's a deviant because in his time he wanted to break up the big landed estates and distribute much of the land to the peasants, which was just what the aristocrats feared, the class which István came from. 

Dream?  István's goddaughter plays with him, but then she wants to go see the young Baksa.  She speaks with him and they go into the house.  Later Baksa drags the girl out of the house and throws her on the ground.  As István watches, Baksa goes into the house.  Next István goes into the house.  István is pushed out of the house and lands with his back on the ground.  In a mocking way, the young Baksa now acts as if he were the aristocrat István the of the murder of Baksa.  The goddaughter approaches Baksa sitting on a chair, but Baksa lifts her up and throws her as far as he can.  István jumps on Baksa for this and the two men start fighting. While fighting, the two men become exhausted. 

István and Baksa are now both sitting at a long table with other family members.  From behind them come the entire adult community of the area.  And now all the adults walk together, arm in arm. 


Well, this was a movie a little tough to follow.  In fact, I am still confused.  I really had to stop the film and start looking up the history of Hungary on Wikipedia.  I tried to match the history with the film, but still am confused.  (I don't think the film can really be matched closely with Hungarian history.) Around the time of World War I, Hungary's history was a bit like that of Russia.  Hungary got its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I led to the collapse of the Empire.  The Hungarians then established a republic.  The republic did not last long and the communists took over.  This is the situation that faced István Zsadányi.  From the brief summary of the period he faced, it's obvious there was almost constant change at this time. 

István Zsadányi was not a perfect man.  He established a private army to fight in World War I and had to get along with the peasantry, from which he got his soldiers..  He did care about the peasants and wanted to break-up the big landed estates and give the land to the peasants.  In this he was a pretty good fellow.  But then there was a very nasty streak in the man.  Being an aristocrat, he ran rough-shod over many of the peasants in his private army.  Forcing a young man to shoot his own horse is an example of his apparent streak of sadism.  He was too arrogant and too contemptuous of others. 

In the end, István refused to compromise, with serious consequences for him. 

As if the movie wasn't hard enough to follow, the film has some artsy-fartsy like scenes whose meaning is a bit hard to interpret. 

Patrick L. Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1830-1848 – reign of Ferdinand IV.

1848-1916 – rule of Francis Joseph.

1849 – regained the rule with Russian help.

1867 – Francis Joseph crowned.

1903  --  Károly Khuen-Héderváry serves as prime minister of Hungary.

1910-1912  --  Károly Khuen-Héderváry serves as prime minister of Hungary before World War I. 

1914 (summer)  --  start of World War I. 

1916 (November) - 1918 (November) – reign of Charles IV.

1918 (October 31) – assassination during the Chrysanthemum Revolution of Prime Minister Tisza.   He was replaced as Prime-Minister by leftist liberal count Mihály Károlyi.  Károlyi orders the full disarmament of the Hungarian Army.  Soon the nations around Hungary were rearmed and many attacked Hungary.

1918 (November 11)   --  end of World War I. 

1918 (November) – Charles IV "renounced participation" in state affairs.  He did not abdicate, but did spend the remaining years of his life attempting to restore the monarchy.

The Austro-Hungarian empire falls.  Hungary gains its independence. 

1918 (Nov. 16)  --  First Republic of Hungary proclaimed and Mihály Károlyi becomes president. 

By 1919 (February) – government has lost all popular support and soon falls.

1919 (March 21)  --  Mihály Károlyi resigns. 

The government is replaced by the Hungarian Soviet Republic drive by an alliance of the Communist Party of Hungary, led by Béla Kun, and the Hungarian Social Democratic Party.


The Conservative Royalists (referred to as the Whites) launch a counter-revolution. They establish a counter-government in Szeged and assumed power, led by István Bethlen, a Transylvanian aristocrat, and Miklós Horthy, the former commander in chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

The conservatives began a White Terror. Many Communists and other leftists were tortured and executed without trial.

November 16 – Horthy's army marches into Budapest. His government gradually restored security and stopped terror.

March – the parliament restores the Hungarian monarchy. Miklos Horthy is elected and he appoints Hungary's Prime Minister. The regent has power to veto legislation, convene or dissolve the parliament and command the armed forces.

1922 – death of Charles IV.


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