Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Forgotten Faces (Watkins, 1961)

Billed as an amateur production from early in the career of maverick filmmaker Peter Watkins, The Forgotten Faces is anything but amateurish. Telling the story of a Hungarian student revolt against the Communist government imposed by the Soviets in the 50’s, this short film shows many of Watkins’ trademarks already in place. It is shot in faux documentary style with a narrator (not Watkins this time) providing context and background information about each of the key players. The street scenes in which revolutionaries clash with police reminded me of Eisenstein as the violence is swift and shocking and much of what we experience is conveyed through a series of faces – hopeful, determined, pained, despairing. Watkins’ interpretation of warfare is unusual in that he does not go into too much detail about the circumstances leading up to the violence from a nationalistic perspective. Rather, it is the individual that takes center stage. Each brief history told is an acknowledgment of that person’s existence and the contribution they have made to the whole, no matter how small. As Watkins returns late in the film to each character and briefly summarizes their fate, we see why he is not only one of cinema’s great historians, but also one of its great humanists.


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