Csillagosok, katonák (The Red and the White) (1967)
Director: Miklós Jancsó.
Starring: József Madaras (Hungarian Commander), Tibor Molnár (Andras), András Kozák (Laszlo), Jácint Juhász (Istvan), Anatoli Yabbarov (Captain Chelpanov), Sergei Nikonenko (Cossack Officer), Mikhail Kozakov (Nestor), Bolot Bejshenaliyev (Chingiz), Tatyana Konyukhova (Yelizaveta the Matron), Krystyna Mikolajewska (Olga), Viktor Avdyushko (Sailor), Gleb Strizhenov (Colonel), Nikita Mikhalkov (White Officer), Vladimir Prokofyev (Valentin Bryleyev).
civil war in post-revolutionary Soviet Union
Hungarian film with English sub-titles.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
During the Soviet civil war, the revolutionary red forces had to fight the foreign-backed whites (counter-revolutionary forces) on some twenty-one fronts. Hungarian volunteers joined the defense on one of the fronts. An abandoned monastery was used as a field hospital and garrison by both sides when they captured the position.
The white forces capture a red soldier. The Cossack ensign shoots the man in cold blood. A Hungarian soldier comes out of hiding when the ensign leaves. He throws his rifle into the stream and runss back to his headquarters.
The Cossacks are attacking the Bolsheviks at Uralsk. General Denikin advances to Donets Basin. General Yudenich advances to Pskov. And General Kolchak heads to the Volga. The whites shout that no quarter will be given for the Bolsheviks.
The white forces take the headquarters of the reds. From the group of captive soldiers, they select four men. Three of them are shot, while the Hungarian is allowed to rejoin the larger group. The whites then separate out the non-Russians from the group of captives. They are allowed to leave. For the rest of the captives, they only have 15 minutes to get away. After what seemed a lot less than 15 minutes, the white soldiers start to hunt down and kill the red soldiers as if this was some kind of fox hunt.
The Cossack ensign gets so out of hand with some local citizens that a superior officer has him executed by a firing squad in the field. Almost all of the red soldiers who have taken refuge around the once abandoned monastery are cruelly shot to death. The Hungarian that had escaped from the ensign is asked by the head nurse in the monastery if he will write down the names of the dead. He agrees to do the job.
A white officer starts ordering the nurses around to bully and terrorize them. He is like a cat playing with a frightened mouse. He has them hop in two carriages and takes them to change from their nurse uniforms to dress gowns. (Don't ask me where he got the gowns.) Then he makes them dance the waltz with each other as the army band plays tunes. He then just dismisses them and sends them walking back to the monastery.
Many of the red soldiers have taken refuge in the monastery and are being treated by the nurses. A red soldier has the Hungarian who escaped from the Cossack ensign take a horse and ride to the First Cavalry Division to tell them that 25 men of the International 2nd Company have suffered 11 wounded and the rest are at the hospital at the River Pesetka. An attack is requested on the monastery.
The red who sent out the message for assistance kisses the dark-haired nurse. His seduction of the willing nurse is disturbed by the arrival of some white soldiers on horse back. They discover the red soldier, make him jump off the dock into the river and spear him with a large pole, while the nurse has to watch. Then one of the white officers wants the head nurse to separate out the red nurses from the white nurses. She won't do it, so the officer asks the dark-haired nurse to do it. She resists at first but finally gives in and identifies the red nurses. But before the officer can carry out the execution of the red nurses, he is shot dead by a soldier in charge of the arriving red forces.
Now it is time for the red forces to execute some whites. An officer is picked out along with the dark-haired nurse who is branded a traitor for having pointed out the red nurses. The red officer knows that the whites are near at hand and so he has his forces split into two groups. The Hungarians go with the red officer. The group confronts a large group of white soldiers and lose a lot of men. They then inexplicably decide to frontally assault the huge group of the enemy. Of course, they are all killed.
The Hungarians messenger (the one who escaped from the Cossack ensign) returns with more red soldiers.
A weird movie. The movie principally dealt with what we would now consider war crimes. The whites brutally hunted down the captive red soldiers and killed them as if it was all some kind of sport. They went on to torture the nurses at the monastery by acting as if they were going to all be killed. Later they separated out the red nurses from the white nurses and were going to execute the reds. It was a disgusting thing to watch. And then when the reds took the monastery, they had to engage in their own war crimes even if they were less in extent. I guess the message was that this was a war of "no quarter " and both sides acted like war criminals killing enemy captives, including nurses. As an anti-war film, the film works. But only as an anti-war film. It was pretty hard and a bit depressing to have to sit through the film. But if you like a little sadism with you movies, this is one for you.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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