Mr. Jancso was known for depicting the passage of time in his historical epics merely by changes of costume. He won his Cannes award for “Red Psalm,” about a 19th-century peasant revolt.
In the 1960s, critics ranked Mr. Jancso alongside such directors as Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. But it was his use of scantily clad women, symbolizing defenselessness, which drew big audiences in prudish communist Hungary.
Mr. Jancso was born Sept. 27, 1921, in Vac, a town north of Budapest. His parents were refugees from Transylvania, once part of Hungary.
“My mother was Romanian. In civilian life, the family members were friends, but politically on opposite sides. . . . For me, this was a great lesson — that conflict, much less violence, will never solve the nationality problems,” he once said.
Between April and November 1945, he was a Soviet prisoner of war. He joined the Communist Party in 1946.
“I was always concerned with the problem of [how] the individual can navigate through history,” Mr. Jancso said, summing up the central focus of his films.
After directing a series of short films in the 1950s, his 1963 “Cantata” drew the attention of the wider public to his exceptional talent and innovative style.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Jancso lived in Italy, during which he made “Vices and Pleasures,” about the double suicide in 1889 of Rudolf, archduke of Austria, and his mistress.
Because of scenes depicting orgies, the movie was banned in Italy and Jancso was sentenced to four months in prison. He was later acquitted on appeal.
Among his most successful films were “The Round-Up” (1966), “The Red and the White” (1967) and “Silence and Cry” (1968).
He also directed the French-Israeli co-production “Dawn,” made in 1986 from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel’s book about Jews seeking their identity in Israel.
Between 1999 and 2006, he made a series of six films dealing with the often absurd adventures of Kapa and Pepe, two comical antiheroes played by Zoltan Mucsi and Peter Scherer. The use in the films of songs from the Hungarian pop band Kispal es a Borz helped the films gain cult status.
Mr. Jancso was a professor of the Budapest Film Academy. Between 1990 and 1992, he was a visiting professor at Harvard’s Institute of Communications. He received lifetime achievement awards in Cannes in 1979, Venice in 1990 and Budapest in 1994.
“The most noble aesthetic pleasure is the discovery of truth,” Mr. Jancso told Filmvilag magazine.
— Associated Press