My Way Home
English Title: My Way Home
Original Title: Így jöttem
Country of Origin: Hungary
Director: Miklós Jancsó
Producer(s): József Győrffy
Cinematographer: Tamás Somló
Editor: Zoltán Farkas
Runtime: 109 minutes
Volume: East European
Így jöttem/My Way Home was Miklós Jancsó’s third feature, and served to finally make his name, both in Hungary and abroad. It is also the first film that gives a real flavour of what would very soon hereafter become recognised and celebrated as the Jancsó style: long, fluid takes that frame action and inaction against vast expanses of rolling, often empty landscapes; and a symbolist narrative methodology that implicitly and (generally) indirectly allegorizes the contemporary Hungarian experience.
Given the stark existentialism of My Way Home’s loose, episodic narrative (it follows a teenage soldier called Joska returning home through the countryside during the dying days of World War II), this allegorical import here stands beside a fable of the limits of individual action, morality and identity. There are certainly moments in which the former seems to predominate: principally in the numerous instances when the protagonist is mistaken for either a Russian or, more damningly, a Nazi, and uncompromisingly dealt with as such. Similarly, the repeated motif of animals, and the use of an overflying aircraft to mark out each successive stage of Joska’s journey, underlines a symbolic as much as a literal progress on Joska’s part. However, in pursuing a connotative import, even these feel somewhat broad and uncomfortably ladled onto the character’s various picaresque encounters. Rather, the point should be stressed that Joska’s individuality is, denotatively, the centre of My Way Home. He seems to absorb aspects of the various people he comes into contact with, something that is most clear when he and his ostensible Russian captor suddenly enter a space of childhood, playing together around a derelict mansion and, like the young protagonist of Roberto Rossellini’s Germania anno zero/Germany Year Zero (1948), finding temporary respite amid a return to a youth one imagines has largely been denied them.
This sets My Way Home apart from the ostensibly similar Soviet war films that proliferated from the late 1950s onward: films like Grigori Chukhrai’s Ballada o soldate/Ballad of a Soldier (1959) and Sergei Bondarchuk’s Sudba cheloveka/Destiny of a Man (1959) which similarly trace their protagonist’s troubled journey home from the front amid the horror of the Second World War. These works progressively fill in detailed personal histories and characterizations, and explicitly lament the fighting and killing, the lives wasted, families torn apart and countries demolished. Jancsó, by way of contrast, is little interested in the effects of warfare beyond the immediate, sensory realm of fear and violence, capture and escape: in short, of survival, and it is in this regard that the aforementioned style comes markedly into play. It is, at this stage of the director’s career, still embryonic; yet it yields immense rewards and almost symphonic visual delights in which camerawork and composition fuse into a richly nuanced whole. Working for the second time with a number of key creative personnel – screenwriter Gyulá Hernádi, editor Zoltán Farkas and cinematographer Tamás Somló (the former two of whom would both go on to collaborate with Jancsó on all his major works), the director employs a lack of psychological veracity to fashion a figurative blank canvas on which to paint a picture of pure movement and action, where at any moment the featureless, seemingly limitless rural landscape can throw up obstacles, enemies.
Shots such the one in which Joska, on the first plane of the composition, watches several Cossacks ride past on horses, only to walk right and, along with the camera, find himself confronted with three armed Russians who immediately occupy the foreground, are expertly calculated to connote the sense of peril forever lying beyond the field of the protagonist’s immediate comprehension. They also allude to the protracted temporality of his journey; and, along with the attendant preponderance of high angle shots looking down on the character like an insect as he scurries through the landscape, create a sweeping sense of someone being propelled along uncomprehendingly by forces much larger than himself. This crystallizes Jancsó’s perennial view of history as a tidal wave that engulfs and sweeps away individuals, and is only countermanded in the film’s extraordinary final shot. Here, following a scene in which he is beaten up in revenge for a perceived earlier misdeed, Joska turns and looks directly into the camera with an open, vague, somewhat questioning gesture, as though both to silently entreat the audience not to forget him and to admonish them, provoke them into asking themselves what this period drama means to them and their world twenty years into the future (and more). Jancsó would repeat this parting shot to marginally lesser effect in Csillagosok, katonák/The Red and the White (1968). But here it feels perfectly in key with the preceding story, and closes the film in an especially apposite, meaningful way.
Author of this review: Adam Bingham