Color, 1974, 74m.
Directed by Miklós Jancsó
Starring Mari Töröcsik, György Cserhalmi, József Madaras, Lajos Balázsovits
Second Run (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Facets (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Color, 1974, 74m.
After his astonishing run of Hungarian masterpieces in the ‘60s, director Miklós Jancsó went in some very surprising directions the following decade including the Monica Vitti vehicle The Pacifist, the ambitious Red Psalm, and his most notorious film, Private Vices, Public Virtues. In the middle of these he embarked on his most technically challenging production, Electra, My Love, a visually dazzling meditation on the classic Greek myth of Electra filtered through the source play by László Gyurkó.
After the murder of her father, King Agamemnon, Electra (Töröcsik) spends years plotting revenge against those responsible including the current tyrannical ruler, Aegisthus (Madaras), her stepfather. In the meantime she puts on a socially acceptable demeanor and has a tentative romance with the young Vezér (Private Vices star Balázsovits), but everything changes when her brother, Orestes (Cserhalmi), shows up posing as a messenger delivering his own death. Meanwhile the population engages in a series of dances and social rituals (when they aren’t being persecuted or tortured), some involving the participation of Electra, leading to a hallucinatory and anachronistic finale.
The actual storyline is almost incidental to this film, which is more focused on creating a delirious atmosphere of revolution and rebirth through its incredibly long, often astonishing takes with the camera weaving among dozens of extras (many of them naked at various intervals). Vibrant colors and surreal images of flesh and blood often fill the frame, with Töröcsik, one of Hungary’s great actresses, holding it all together with her confident performance.
Jancsó’s film first bowed on DVD in the U.S. courtesy of Facets in 2003, taken from an ancient master with burned-in subtitles and looking as cruddy as the rest of their output. Fortunately you can chuck that disc in the garbage thanks to the 2016 Blu-ray and DVD editions (region free) from the great UK label Second Run, sporting a new 2K restoration overseen by cinematographer János Kende. Some obvious and unfortunate video noise filtering aside (approaching Wake in Fright levels in a few shots), it’s a very colorful and eye-popping presentation that conveys aesthetic delights you’d never guess from the older video release. The LPCM Hungarian audio with optional English subtitles sounds pristine. Extras include the half-hour Kende interview “The Evolution of the Long Shot” about the challenging and almost always rewarding process of collaborating with Jancsó and a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by film writer and programmer Peter Hames, who ties the film to influences including the Prague Spring, the original play, the incredibly long takes in the director's prior work, and the shifting nature of Hungarian nationalism. Even if you don't pick up on all of that watching the actual film, it's a stunning and often overwhelming experience not to be missed.