21 March 2000 | Richard_Harland_Smith
A Hungarian updating of a classic German tragedy
János Szász's WOYZECK updates Georg Büchman's 1837 tragedy, shifting the action from the German provinces to modern Budapest and recasting its soldier protagonist as a lowly railway flagman. Lajos Kovács (WINGS OF DESIRE) stars as the misused Woyzeck, who ekes out a miserable existence sweeping train tracks, running errands for a bullying army captain and acting as a human guinea pig for a local doctor with ideas about free will. When his common-law wife begins an affair with a local cop, Woyzeck's pocket Bible and near-starvation diet point him on a downward spiral of twisted redemption.
While director Szász has taken certain liberties with the text he eliminates the character of Andres, having Woyzeck confide in an unnamed youth who may be the specter of the son his rage will soon orphan his adaptation is remarkably faithful to Büchman's theme of the dehumanization of the common man by the machinations of Order and fleshes out the play's unsympathetic ciphers, making even the manipulative authority figures pathetically understandable. Tibor Máthé's searing black and white cinematography gives the film, with its industrial winter landscape, a nigh science-fiction ambiance, putting the viewer in the mind of Andrei Tarkovsky's STALKER and David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, whose befuddled Henry Spencer could be a cousin to Woyzeck.