A poetic look at the work of Hungarian film director Béla Tarr.
By Nadine Poulain (in filmwaves #34, Autumn 2007)
excerpts (my emphasis) :
"Instead of deconstructing Bela Tarr's films the following essay aims to capture the uniqueness and intensity of his work. Meaning and interpretation is left to the individual. Film as experience.(...)
Mud's soft embrace
Gravity, weight, physical being
Black and white
or rather an infinite graduation of greys"
"Tarr's universe, where the story is bare, a secondary thing. It provides the structure for the subtle to unfold. Locations are equal to characters. We contemplate them, have time to become familiar with their peculiarities. Often we arrive at a location before the characters enter the frame, stay there after they have left. Temps mort, our breeding ground, has never been more alive. Scenery and natural elements tell their own stories, in their own time. Breathing still lives that sometimes get invaded by the characters. We do not have to follow, as they walk in and out. Off-screen noise, off-screen action, reminds us of the world beyond the frame. A camera that reveals, while at the same time denying. Attention is drawn to what escapes our gaze. It is self-conscious directing. The frame always also refers to what lies outside of it, to the subjective nature of cinematic reality."(...) [describing the scene in Damnation with the couple in the room at the break of dawn] :
"Content with one frame, we rest. We become familiar with this side of the room, while we wonder how the rest looks, who the woman is. A reversed opening shot, leaving us in a state, where we cannot locate ourselves. We experience a slight tension from being denied, rather than exposed. The singularity of the shot refers to all there could be. It speaks of literature's great potential: to evoke.(...) [describing Estike's journey in Satantango, the girl who tortures the cat] :
The absence of the cut. Raw and unfiltered time. Our eyes travel over space that constantly opens up. We gain what editing takes away: the chance to find relevance and emphasis ourselves. Meditative, contemplative, demanding: the long take, cinema of continuity. Information, cut replaced by confidence in transcending the passive viewer position. We enter into a partnership, re-seeing and re-exploring. We feel the presence of the characters. Real life. People who are never more or less than a part of their environment. We get to know and understand them, through spending time with them and the world they are living in. In respectful distance, we observe. Slowly they reveal their personage."
"To share silence, to become comfortable with the absence of words, it is intimacy that unfolds. Inner states are accessed through a detour. Her opaqueness does not burden us with outer manifestations. Immediate exhaustibility is denied, emotional involvement counterbalanced. This distance in reverse brings us closer to her, for it is from our own depth that we have to draw.(...) [describing the music speech scene in Werkmeister Harmonies] :
Tarr's universe, an intense and honest engagement. Sensibilities and interest for the banal, the every day, meditated through style. Visual pleasure. Immaculately composed, brilliantly photographed. A graceful camera. We come closer to life, while at the same time maintain a reflective distance.
Tarr's universe, where dark images alternate with light ones, become all the darker after the pale and misty. Where words are rare, not to be wasted. At times they follow one another, form a denseness that plays off the silence preceding and following. We glide through space, endlessly stalking, then motionless we rest. The dance of opposites. Impact in relation to the other. Each long shot establishes a sense of materiality, a temporal denseness. It emphasises the moment, concentrates on the singular. Action, sound and camera work in their repetition form rhythmical patterns. Caught in the drama of the moment, perception for change is heightened. The cut, a major event."
"Then we travel back and embark on another journey around the head of the speaker. One circle after the other. Camera movement and speech take on a sense of materiality. What will happen next? when? We are caught in the drama of the moment, its monotonous denseness.(...)
Restless we drift through space, soak up each syllable, just to rest motionless again, enjoy the silence after anew.
We are in Bela Tarr's universe, a convincing parallel world with its own laws, its own logic. A universe out of joint. (...) The creature of self-pity mankind. When it reflects upon its disgraceful nature, it cannot but burst into laughter. It is the one, which after all can retreat into detachment, can distance itself from itself. The mocking one, annoying and entertaining itself with its continuous mourning.
When one goes all the way into one direction, one comes out at the opposite end. Maybe? Is where bleakness becomes funny, misery turns into hope, self-neglect becomes a passionate embrace?
Tarr's universe, always detached, always respectful. One vision one idea, uncompromised. A bleakly comic reflection on the human condition. Polemic in its pessimisms, it is nevertheless democratic, for it invites us, engages with us on many levels. It is a somehow wholesome experience. A journey, rather than a moral lesson. Facing the worst of what we can be, we may be able to regain pride and grace, and if it is just for the fact, that we diagnose."