THE WIND IS WHISTLING UNDER THEIR FEET
Dir. György Szomjas, 1976.
Hungary. 95 min.
In Hungarian with English subtitles.
FRIDAY, JUNE 7 – 10:00 PM
THURSDAY, JUNE 20 – 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, JUNE 23 – 10:00 PM
György Szomjas brings exquisite style and pacing to this elegiac gallows western about a betyár — a brand of 19th century highwayman popular in contemporary Hungarian balladry — set amid the Great Hungarian Plain in 1937. It follows the path of a brooding, aging outlaw newly escaped from prison whose personal revenge quest dovetails with the interests of the landless herdsman who oppose the state’s building a canal through the fields on which they work their trade. He becomes an unlikely hero to unwashed vagabond workers while facing down a mutually-admiring adversary in the form of a forthright squire who had captured him before. Meanwhile, an opportunistic youngster attempts to work both sides to his benefit. As ditches are dug for canals and corpses alike, the state puts increasing pressure on the wistful squire, who realizes the social order is changing and his fortunes are in decline; and yet he remains dutifully attached to his mission.
Along with Szomjas’s follow-up ROSSZEMBEREK, THE WIND IS WHISTLING UNDER THEIR FEET is probably the only example of a “Goulash Western.” Though carefully paced and supposedly based on historical documents, it aims squarely for populist appeal. The autumnal palette, period imagery, and sudden outbursts of hysterical grotesquery recall Andrzej Żuławski’s THE DEVILS. Yet most of all it brings to mind the unlikely grouping of Woody Guthrie, Miklós Jancsó, and Akira Kuroswawa — or maybe Béla Tarr meets Sergio Leone. Whatever the comparisons, THE WIND IS WHISTLING UNDER THEIR FEET is a stirring, forgotten gem in classic Spectacle tradition and not to be missed.