The three suspects are Kobai Sr. and Jr., father and son, and ex-cavalry officer Torma. They survive several rounds of psychological torture before being saved by news the front: the war is going poorly and all the prisoners are to be conscripted. Kobai and Torma, because of their military experience, are asked to give a demonstration of their horsemanship and are told to assemble a cavalry unit from their pick of men. Kobai and Torma now admit that Sandor was never among the prisoners, but the commandant assures them it doesn't matter anyway and reads a proclamation from the emperor pardoning Sandor in absentia. The newly formed unit, Sandor's former regiment, no longer needs to shroud themselves in secrecy and break out into cheers. The proclamation goes on to say, however, that Sandor's men are to receive their just punishment: execution. Their cheers are abruptly cut short as black sacks are pulled over their heads.
What remains most notably distinctive in Jancso work as compared to later copycats is his handling of characters, specifically the total absence of not just heroes, but even protagonists, denying war's mythology of honor or personal glory. Janos, the closest thing to a central lead, is a craven troll (his lopsided cap and disheveled cape are brilliant examples of characterization through costuming) who only shows up 15 minutes in and 35 minutes later gets ignobly and offhandedly killed offscreen. Other characters anchor the camera for shorter or longer periods, but they are liable to die at any time; the audience isn't asked or expected to become attached to them. It's a disorienting and dehumanizing structure, one that parallels the dismally oppressive atmosphere of the prison's pitiless operation. Jancso took this idea to its logical extreme in his equally masterful anti-war follow-on, The Red and the White, in which the camera flows back and forth between interchangeable armies senselessly capturing, retreating and recapturing a strategically useless monastery.
Son of Saul
The Fifth Seal
The Red and the White
Zoltán Fábri, Miklós Jancsó, Marcell Jankovics, Marta Meszaros, Istvan Svabo, Bela Tarr