Tarr Béla quits cinema?

Supportive Petition for Tarr Béla

In the September issue of Cahiers (#637), one of the best filmmaker working today, Béla Tarr, casually declares at the end of an interview being fed up. He wants to end his career after his next film (in production now in November 2008) which will be his last. Tarr Béla, the Hungarian auteur who gave us : The Man From London (2007), Werckmeister harmóniák (2000), Sátántangó (1994), Damnation (1988), Almanac of Fall (1985), The Prefab People (1982), Family Nest (1979)...
Excerpt from the end of the interview (my unauthorized translation), by Cyril Neyrat and Emmanuel Burdeau made in Paris, on June 26, 2008 :
[about The Man From London]
Cahiers : you suppressed almost all dialogue from Simenon's novel. The lines remaining are very strong, and performed with power. Where from does this excess of emotional expression?
Tarr : I maybe come back to my roots, Family Nest, my first movies in which I was very expressive. I admit I feel deeply fed up. I'm going to quit cinema, but not right away.

CdC: why fed up?
Tarr: I can't stand this fucking polite equality, "petite-bourgeoise", existing in the world. This deal between the poor and Society, how they are forced to accept this order, and we accept this shitty world, it's unbelievable. So no, I have to show what is really going on : people are fed up, their emotions are strong, powerful. And the question is : how these emotions are exploited, controlled, before the big bang.

CdC: Do you really mean to quit cinema?
Tarr: Yes. I just want to make one last film.

CdC: Do you have a scenario?
Tarr: Absolutely. I intend to start shooting in October. When you'll see it, you'll understand why it can only be my last film. I will shoot it in Hungary. Only 3 protagonists, a very small budget, a film very simple. Even more simple, purer.

CdC: What will you do then?
Tarr: Oh, I have plans. No, I don't want to die. I like life, I appreciate it, of course. I know very well how shitty it is, but I'm able to appreciate it. On one condition : that I'm able to do something. Or else..."
This interview is very disturbing, and I'm surprised Cahiers didn't even investigate the point, left him hanging there without trying to find out what he really meant by this. He also declared in a screening of The Man From London, in Paris (Sept 8, 2008) :
"he wanted to paint, take photographs and write in the future, avoiding the role of 'burned out director'."
In another interview for the French website DVDrama (19 Sept 2008):
Tarr Béla : "I never compromised. If one day I had been stopped to do what I wanted, then I would have aborted the film,thus cinema altogether. I disagree with the idea that a film should be made at all costs because it is necessary to make a film, and in fact to sell out to the system. [...] By the way, I think my next feature film will be the last one and the pinnacle of my career.

DVDrama: Why the last one?
Tarr : Because I'm appalled by today's cinema. I think spectators want less and less a demanding cinema. [...] During all my career I made sure never to underestimate the capacity of the audience and I made films for those who like that, because I think they deserve it that such cinema must exist.

DVDrama: Should this renunciation be perceived as despair?
Tarr: Maybe, yes, but it's also because my cinema requires too much money and that I always used to push the rules in each new film, inventing ideas of mise en scène, while developing my own style. [...] With The Man From London, I realised that I maybe reached the limit of my capacity to renew myself and to create new forms.
I don't know what are his motivations, if it's personal or if it's the struggle of making films in the margin... he probably knows what he's doing. The publicity stunt to boost his next film is highly unlikely.
Anyway, I'm disheartened at the idea that there will be no more masterpieces made by Tarr Béla, for us to anticipate and discover and explore and enjoy... after that last one. It's impossible. We need a Tarr Béla working to show there is light. Personally I believe he is the most sophisticated filmmaker in the world today. He's like Tarkovsky in his time, the one who understands the medium the best and pushes it where nobody else led it before, because he masters camerawork, photography, direction and timing so perfectly. He's a genius and we need many more of his films. Let's just tell him that he's not replaceable.

If only to show him support and love, I would like to propose to readers of Unspoken Cinema, and every admirer of his oeuvre in the world, to pass on a symbolic petition asking Tarr Béla to reconsider his decision, if it is even possible. The idea of a petition might sound ridiculous, but I prefer this gesture to the late regrets of an obituary, looking back with nostalgia on all the unfinished projects.
In any case, we need to get together, and make sure to give a triumphant reception to his next film, if it happens to be his last. Maybe a Tarr Béla blogathon would suit this event.

Please sign here to show your support, pass it on to everyone and share your opinions on the situation.


HarryTuttle said…
Please keep on making new films as only you is capable of making them!


P.S. Marginal cinema fosters a confidential audience, so every single viewer should play a part in sustaining the way of life of an auteur in peril. Studios don't support low profit cinema, Distributors don't acquire rights for distribution or for DVDs, Theatres don't give the necessary time to over-long films that are slow to attract a critical mass of viewers, the general movie-goers don't spend money on such films... So only the participation of responsible cinephiles could maintain the existence of this niche of artfilms. Don't pirate them, buy them. Every unit count. Piracy doesn't hardly hurt the profits earned by blockbusters, but it kills small artfilms...
Anonymous said…
I'm not sure Harry, he seems to make himself pretty clear about quitting while he is ahead ('I realised that I maybe reached the limit of my capacity to renew myself and to create new forms').

That kind of admission and honesty deserves a high degree of respect, considering what he really has achieved. But for sure, his final film demands some sort of celebration!
HarryTuttle said…
I respect his decision. But we don't have to take it at face value.

The Man From London didn't prove me any sign of decline at all. The bad reception of the (unfinished) film by critics in Cannes might have discouraged him. It would be a pity if the "professional accredited reviewers" had the power to destroy somebody's confidence, while the anonymous cinephiles outside of Cannes couldn't show their solid faith in him, just because distributors didn't expose the film publicly throughout the world.
Carlos Ferrao said…
I can totally relate to him. He's tired of being a beggar and of being shackled to the people who give him money. It's tough to be an artist especially one who works in an art that's seen as "just" a business. Read this interview about his experience w/ Damnation and how he was fed up even back then.


The climate these days for this kind of film is even worse now than in 1989. A lot of European funding agencies judge their success on purely commercial terms and the same goes for a lot of film festivals that are little more than trade shows to buy and sell audiovisual product w/ no artistic considerations whatsoever. So yeah, it's shitty and as one grows older the tolerance to that shit grows smaller and smaller until you're perfectly happy expressing your vision and yourself w/ just words or w/ just paint.
Carson Lund said…
I agree, I am severely disheartened. Tarr is truly one of the greatest living filmmakers. However, Tarkovsky also made under 10 films, and each was such a massive personal artistic achievement for him. It would be awful to see Tarr make a film that he didn't have absolute devotion to.
HarryTuttle said…
Tarkovsky wanted to make more films, but he missed funds and the political approval in Russia.

Bergman wanted to quit after Fanny & Alexander...

What I hear in Tarr's words is not that he has nothing more to say (since he wants to continue express himself with painting, photography...) but that it is the context that makes it impossible for him to continue to work that way.
The production of The Man From London was a nightmare because his producer, Hubert Balsan, died, and it took 4 or 5 years to finish.

Do you think that Tarr will be offended, embarrassed if he sees there is a petition circulating to show him support? Even if he will indeed stop making films, there is no harm in asking him not to.
nitesh said…
Making personal films is getting difficult all over the world. I agree with Harry with the fact that atleast we can show our love and respect to him by signing the petition. Because its not easy to continue working for your vision when the funding is getting smaller and smaller with every passing year.
Carlos Ferrao said…
"Tarkovsky wanted to make more films, but he missed funds and the political approval in Russia."

His last films were done outside Russia because of lack of support there. And the reason they were the last was because he was quite ill w/ cancer, not because he couldn't find the support in the USSR. But I get your point.
Paul Martin said…
I respect Tarr's decision to make a film or not, but I eagerly await anything he makes.
Tarr is a one of a kind master.

Anonymous said…
I cringe at that "or else..." which concludes his statements to Cahiers. It's imponderable. i don't want to allow my thoughts to go there. So many filmmakers arm themselves with so many excuses and justifications for compromising the film that they'd hoped to make. Compromises and excuses are intolerable to BT.

Money is a constant struggle for a filmmaker, of course, but I don't believe it's the greatest struggle. With the new technology available it is still possible to create these personal works. The real problem is distribution. We might also add the disappearing of qualified writers who will seek out these works and lead an audience to them. Certainly, in the realm of print media learned film critics are continuing to be ousted by their bottom-line driven editors and publishers.

I generally don't like discussions about "purity". it sounds so naive and provincial. Who has the luxury of purity any longer? Purity=poverty. Is Terrence Malick less pure because he uses big stars in order to get his work seen? Is Philippe Garrel pure enough for us? Is Jon Jost, who is amongst the most impoverished filmmakers, who doesn't ask anyone for production funds, whatsoever, a satisfactory model of purity?

Writing novels won't provide any consolation for BT either. Has he not considered the sorry state of publishing, which like filmmaking, is only interested in that which moves numbers? I would not presume to tell him how to proceed after renouncing filmmaking as a practice. Only to say that there is no easy way out. Only to say that he has achieved a world-class reputation, and that he should try to stay productive in his field, by whatever means necessary.
Carlos Ferrao said…
I saw The Man from London today at the Barbican. Wow, what a great experience. My first Tarr film in an actual theatre instead of DVD. Afterwards as I made my way back through the concrete labyrinth that is the Barbican my whole sense of time, space and identity was somehow out of focus. Benjamin Button didn't do that to me ;)
Still, The Man from London is about the level of Damnation and not up to scratch w/ Werckmeister or ST. Maybe that's what disappointed Bela? That he was regressing as an artist? I think he's too old and too far down his career to learn how to use digital to make his films, not that using digital saves much money if you shoot the way he does.
Quite sincerely I hope he takes a break, gets a few ideas together, then gives his pal Krasznahorkai a call and begins work on a new film. There's got to be money somewhere for him, even if that means writing w/ a specific budget in mind.
Please reconsider your decision Mr.Tarr...
Why the last one?
"Because I'm appalled by today's cinema. I think spectators want less and less a demanding cinema.."

Strong words. If anyone can justify saying this, its BT, through what he's achieved. Peter Greenaway made a similar statement.

Without the gap between 'rich & poor' though, would great works still be forged? What would there be to touch us, to move us?
Unknown said…
Tarr Béla!
I will respect your decision, whatever it is, but I do hope that you will continue, for your public that loves your work.