Les sans espoir (1966)

 

 

Director:     Miklós Jancsó.

Starring:    János Görbe (Gajdar János),  Zoltán Latinovits (Veszelka Imre),  Tibor Molnár (Kabai Gábor),  Agárdi (Torma).  András Kozák (Ifj),  Kabai Béla Barsi (Foglár József),  Madaras (Magyardolmányos),  János Koltai (Varjú Béla),  István Avar (Vallató I)  Lajos Öze (Vallató II). 

Hungarian soldiers and rebels are trained to be Austrian soldiers while held in prison

 

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

 

Budapest, the 1860s. "The spirit of 1848 is no more than a phrase. Only the welfare of the bourgeoisie is important. . . . Indeed, the lean years following one after another from the middle of the '60's increase their destitution. . . . In 1869 Count Gedeon Raday was appointed Commissary with a specific sphere of authority. His task: to create material security. His main target: the outlaws. He's not particular about his methods."

A man is told to follow the commissary. He is placed in a small cell, but then let out. He follows an official over to a small building. They go inside. They are two dead bodies on the floor.  A woman comes over and looks into the building. A man asks her if these are her husband and son? Yes.

The man that was told to follow the priest is told by another man that he shouldn't be surprised if his parents never see him again. The man says he won't. Why is that? "You people don't really like my kind. I speak four languages and I've often been abroad." The official says that the man smuggled in Kossuth's papers. The official tells the man that he can go now. He walks about 75 yards and and is shot in the back.

Men are lined up in the prison yard. The old woman looks them over.

Other men have to walk in a circle with their heads covered with hoods. When they stop them they, are lined up and put in small wooden cells.

A man is brought over and the cell doors are opened one after another so the man can get a good look at the men in the cells. The last cell is opened. He tells the guard about the man in the last cell: "That one is such a person." The prisoner, named Bela Varju, is brought out of his cell. The guard knows Varju and says that he has given Varju many beatings. The guard tells Varju to thank the man next to him. He says thanks to this man Varju gets to return to the big yard. Varju thanks him.

The savior is now told to take off Varju's chains. He does so. Now both men are sent back to the big yard.

Varju knows the man. He is Janos Gajdor. Varju said he couldn't have taken any more of prison life if Janos had not intervened. He says he has a lot to thank Janos for. Janos asks how did Varju come to this place? Varju says they caught him. Janos asks why has Varju been put in prison? Varju doesn't say.

A guard comes in and picks a number of prisoners to go with him. He walks the men outside the big yard. Outside he has a dozen or so women drop off their large pieces of baked bread on the ground.

Then he tells the women to get far away from the breads. Now the prisoners come up to the bread and some start taking a few pieces of the bread. Varju runs out to the women and the guards shout for him to come back. He turns around and starts coming back.

The prisoners are lined up in formation near the small building. The warden comes out and tells Varju to pick two friends to go with him. One of the men Varju picks is Janos. Janos asks Varju to tell him who did he kill? Varju says he killed six men. Janos wants the names. Varju gives four names and Janos tells him to say the names of the two other men.

They walk to a place where someone will be hanged.

The men outside come back into the big yard. Jarnos goes to see the gendarme.

A guard is demoted. His sword is broken; his epaulets are torn off; and his belt is removed. The man is now taken away.

Janos comes in to speak with the guards. He wants them to hang not him, but Varju. He says that Varju admitted to killing six men. The warden says if Janos can tell him the names of the men killed, he could check his story out. Janos says Varju only gave him three of the names. The wardens tells him that this does not help Janos at all.

Janos is pushed out into the big yard. A friend says the guards have gotten tougher. He used to be able to given them three calves and he was let go. But not now.

The demoted guard is thrown into the big yard. Janos goes over to speak to him. The ex-guard says they say he is Vaszelka. They say he he killed a gendarme and then took his place. If he can't prove that he is not Vaszelka, they will hang him. He says this Vaszelka has killed seven people. Janos takes this information and marches over to the guard's door and knocks. When the guards come out he says that this man, the ex-guard, killed seven people. The guards just tells Janos to get out of here. They bring the ex-guard inside the building.

Janos goes back and bangs on the door, harder this time. One of the guys in the yard says he knows Janos and tells him to get out of here. Janos moves away from the man.

Late at night the warden speaks with Janos. Janos says if they take him around and let him look at the men in solitary, he could spot a man for them. The guard shows him the faces of the men. He then asks: "Have you found Vaszelka?" No.

Now everyone in the big yard is placed against the wall. Janos and the guards walk up and down the rows of men. Janos points out a man, who is grabbed. A hood is thrown over his head and he's taken away.

A guard tells the new prisoner that he is Imre Vaszelka. They want him to tell them how many of Sandor's men they have caught.

The next day the bread ceremony is repeated. This time they bring out Janos. And then they bring out Vaszelka. They have Janos and Vaszelka walk up and down the line of women. Does Vaszelka recognize any of the women? No. The two men have to make the walk again. Then Janos says he knows someone who was with Sandor. Vaszelk jumps on Janos and yells for Juli to run for it. All the women take off running. The cavalry take out after the women.

They capture the women. They make them disrobe. They make a woman walk out between two formations of men. The soldiers form a gauntlet through which the woman has to race back and forth while the soldiers whack her with the broadsides of their swords.

The hooded prisoners are brought on top of a viewing area above the grounds below. They are told to take off their hoods. They see the woman running back and forth through the gauntlet. Vaszelka gets so angry that he throws himself off the high place. Then another man throws himself off. And still a third man jumps off.

The prisoners go crazy at the sight. The guards have a hard time holding them back. The prisoners are ordered to form a square. Now they call Janos over. About the three suicides, they ask Janos: "Which one of them is Sandor?" Janos says that Sandor is not here.

The warden is informed that the woman that ran the gauntlet has died. He tells Janos to find someone who is associated with Sandor. The prisoners grab Janos and start beating him, but he is able to get away from them. Janos is allowed inside away from the prisoners.

Janos comes back out and tells the warden that he is frightened and wants the warden to protect him. The warden says they will protect Janos.

While walking around in a circle the prisoners are told to pick up their bowels of food laying on the ground. One of the prisoners, Janos, is put in a solitary cell.

Later the prisoner Janos is taken out of his cell. The guy appears dead. One of the prison officials says: "They've strangled him."

A father and son are accused of killing the prisoner. They both say they did not do it. The official says both of them should be hanged, but they will hang only one of them. He tells them to think about who killed Janos Gajdor. A little later he calls the two men back, but again both men say they did not kill Janos. So, now the official has both men go into the other room and think about if Sandor is here at the prison? A little later he brings the son out. The son says he will show them Sandor if they will reprieve him. The official says he will reprieve both father and son if the son points out Sandor.

So the son picks out a man and says it's Sandor. The son says: "He was very brave in '48. His gang joined Kossuth's with Sandor as captain." The official asks the son how does he know Sandor? The son says Sandor came out to the field in '67.

The official tells the son: "That's not Sandor. You know it, too. Sandor is not here." The guard takes the son back to the small building. As the official comes in, the father now says that it was he who strangled Janos. The official now says both father and son are lying. So dad tells the official he will show him who killed Janos.

Dad points out a fellow and the three of them are asked questions. Their stories contradict each other and another official says that they are all lying. All three men have collars put around their necks and then the three are chained together.

The three men are separated from each other and then chained separately. A band comes out and plays some music. Guards come out and place clothes in three piles. Now the prisoners in the big yard are brought out. They are told to take their clothes off. The piles of clothes are now handed out to these prisoners. The prisoners don the uniforms of the guards. They are then trained to be soldiers.

With the band leading the way the men march away from the prison.

The three men are brought back into the prison. The third fellow, named Torma, asks the guards to let him take a dip in the water filled tub. Permission granted. Torma jumps in.

Six cavalry men come riding up to the prison. One fellow rides inside and asks the primary guard to give his report. The guard reports. "2 guards and 3 prisoners." The cavalry man says why are these five men still here? The guard says he had no orders to leave. The cavalry man says: "Everyone must join up." The guard says the three prisoners are part of Sandor's gang. The cavalry man says it doesn't matter --- everyone must join. So the main guard tells everyone to come along.

The three prisoners are taken to the encampment. Dad and Torma report that they have had cavalry training and experience with the rebels. So these two men will be put to the test. Both men ride well. Dad jumps off his horse and takes Torma to the ground. The two wrestle each other until the officer in charge tells them to stop it.

Now it's Torma's turn to chase dad. He does so and knocks dad off his horse with his bullwhip. The cavalry officer is impressed and asks if Torma could form a cavalry corps? Torma says yes, but that he doesn't want dad in it.

Torma now selects out the men he wants. When he is finished, the officer asks Torma if all these men were with the rebels? Yes. But there are many others who died in Damjanich's army and at the earthworks too. The only man missing now is Sandor. The officer says he won't come. Torma says yes he will come, if he asks him to come.

The men are now read a statement from the Emperor Franz Joseph pardoning Sandor. All the men in the Sandor group roar their approval. They start singing a patriotic song. "Lajos Kossuth send a message that his regiment is spent. If he sends that message again, we must all go. Long live Hungarian liberty! Long live our homeland!"

Now the officer says that the rest of the rebels will now receive their punishment. The Austrians ties up the rebels and put hoods over their heads. They all will be executed. 

 

Austria dominated Hungary during this era in Hungarian history.  As part of that dominance, Hungarian troops were often called on to help the Austrians fight their battles.  This was not popular among many Hungarians who wanted to establish an independent Hungarian nation.  In 1848 there was a Hungarian Revolution.  With the help of Russia, Austria regained control over Hungary.  Because of the turbulent times, it was even more important that the Hungarian troops be placed under Austrian rule and command.  They wanted to make sure that they tamed the Hungarian forces some of whom fought for the the Revolution of 1848.  This film is set in that context.  The problem faced by the Austrians was how to we stamp out the revolutionary ambitions still present in many of the hearts of the Hungarian soldiers.

This background is important to know, because at first I couldn't fully understand what these Austrians were trying to accomplish?  They were putting in and taking out various prisoners in ways that at first appeared willy-nilly to me.  Of course, what the Austrians were doing becomes very apparent in the shocking ending of the film.  "There's a method to their madness" that was just not immediately apparent.  But the ending takes care of that. 

It's a Hungarian film with the message that you just couldn't trust those imperialistic Austrians.  You'll see why.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

16 December 1526 - 25 July 1564 -- Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor (Ferdinánd) claimed the Hungarian throne according to the agreement between the House of Jagiellon and the House of Habsburg.

1699  --  Hungary reunited under Habsburg rule after the Great Turkish War.

1848  --  Hungary Rebellion.  Ferdinand V resigns in favor of his nephew Francis Joseph of Austria. 

1848 (Dec. 2) - 1916 -- Francis Joseph of Austria takes over. He regained the rule with Russian help in 1849 and was crowned in 1867.

The Austrian-Hungarian Empire lasted from 1867 to 1918.  It was big military power and consisted of modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, large parts of Serbia and Romania and smaller parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine.

 

Sándor Petőfi (1823 – most likely 31 July 1849) was a Hungarian poet and liberal revolutionary. He is Hungary's national poet and he was one of the key figures of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. He is the author of the "Nemzeti dal" (National Poem), the poem said to have inspired the revolution in the Kingdom of Hungary that grew into a war for independence from the Austrian Empire. It is most likely that he died in the Battle of Segesvár, one of the last battles of the war.

His father, a village butcher and innkeeper, was a second-generation Serb or Slovak immigrant.  His mother was Slovakian. 

He and his wife Júlia moved to Pest, where he joined a group of like-minded students and intellectuals who regularly met at Café Pilvax. They worked at promoting Hungarian as the language of literature and theatre, formerly based on French.

1848  --  Hungarian Revolution. 

Petőfi joined Polish Liberal General Józef Bem's "Transylvanian army".  Their initial efforts were successful.  They were, however, repeatedly defeated after Tsar Nicholas I of Russia intervened to restore the Hapsburgs.

Józef Zachariasz Bem (1794 - 1850) was s a Polish general, an Ottoman Pasha and a national hero of Poland and Hungary.

1949 (July 31)  --  Petőfi was last seen alive in the battle of Segesvár.

 

 

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