Thursday, August 05, 2010

Modern Maestros: Bela Tarr

Robert here, back with another entry in my series on great contemporary directors.  I recognize that I'm following up last week's demanding foreign director with another this week. While I usually like to break up the more esoteric filmmakers, something seemed fitting about putting Tarr and Weerasethakul back-to-back.  They're so similar yet so different.

Maestro: Bela Tarr
Known For: philosophical films with long takes, mostly his seven hour film Satantango.
Influences: Tarkovsky is obvious.  Accroding to Tarr, Rainer Werner Fassbinder most of all.
Masterpieces: Satantango and Werckmeister Harmonies
Disasters: none
Better than you remember: none

Box Office: numbers not available.

 

It may be required by law that every article, post, discussion about Hungarian director Bela Tarr mention Susan Sontag, the great critic who championed him as one of the few high points remaining in modern cinema, saying of his opus Satantango, "Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I'd be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life."  In many ways that statement elevated knowledge of the film and it's director to new levels of awareness in the movie-lover community and as the movie made the rounds at festivals, cinematheques, and art theaters became something of an endurance test and badge of honor for those who've taken the plunge (which, and I mean to brag, I did two years ago and it remains the best cinematic experience I've ever had).  By comparison, Tarr's more recent two films have seemed short and tight, clocking in at under three hours each and still featuring all the trademarks of a Tarr film.

The apocalyptic drab town of Werckmeister Harmonies

First and foremost among those trademarks are Bela Tarr's nearly infamous long shots.  According to Tarr, long shots are preferable to allow the audience to immerse themselves deeply into the world of the film.  Tarr wants to ease you into his realities and allow you to live in them fully for the most optimum emotional effect (although often times it may take a while to allow ourselves to become accustomed to the pacing, don't worry the film's first shot usually provides that time, like the almost iconic opening to Satantango.)  These slow realities are filled with Tarr's (and regular co-writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai's) philosophies and meditations on spirituality and the nature of man.  While that might sound like a drag, it all comes together quite successfully for Tarr whose films do seem to creep into your subconscious and leave you ponderous for days (or longer).

Tilda Swinton: the most "mainstream" actress he's worked with.

Tarr's been making films for over three decades but (like Weerasethakul last week) is finally starting to raise his stature in the cinematic landscape.  His back catalog has recently been released on DVD and his latest, The Man From London, positioned itself as a more accessible (despite an opening hour of silence) noir genre experiment featuring Tilda Swinton.  Unfortunately reviews were mixed and distribution has suffered, just as Tarr could use an extra bump.  His next yet to be released feature The Turin Horse was hotly anticipted for Cannes this year but it was not to be.  Still hopes remain high.  Tarr's influence on modern film, independent film, and in particular Gus Van Sant's recent movies is undeniable.  And that influence stands to grow as the man continues to put out difficult masterpieces that challenge the viewer and the medium and find exposure to a larger and larger audience who will discover themselves to be grateful to have been exposed to the brilliance of Bela Tarr.

10 comments:

Joel said...

After seeing Man from London, I can safely say I'll pass on any of this other films...

Glenn Dunks said...

The Man From London was the first film of his I ever saw - I imagine Joel and I saw it at the exact same time too, Melbourne International Film Festival '07 - and I must say, I've never seen anymore since nor do I have an urge to. I would've walked out if I hadn't wanted to stay to the end and count the number of people that DID walk out (I think the number in the 70s).

eddie said...

Looing forward to The Turin Horse.

Kat said...

Glenn, I think I was at that MIFF screening as well. I was a couple of rows from the front and every walkout caught my eye because of the location of the exits. Man, were there a lot of them.

That's the only Bela Tarr I've seen and its not really my kind of film. I felt as if it was unfolding in real time, and no moment was judged too mundane to include. However, I did think that the cinematography was impressive.

vg21 said...

I know it's a shame I have never seen any of Tarr's films despite being Hungarian. It is nice to see an unbiased "outsider's" (=non-Hungarian) review of his works since Hungarian critics tend to be influenced by factors highly irrelevant to the film itself. Somehow they don't seem to be able to overcome the personal and focus exclusively on the professinal aspects. The only frontier they can be (faux-)united on is the representation of Hungarian films at foreign film festivals but then they are surprised it's hardly sufficient.

That's one reason that prevented me from looking into Tarr's work. (Critics CAN discourage you from wanting to see a film, unfortunately.) I also used to think they were not my kind of film but You have actually made them appealing, so I might try. As the comments demonstrate, my fears may be justified though. At least these are the films that ARE available in my country, so we'll see:). Great post, thanks!

Craig Bloomfield said...

I've had Sátántangó on my DVD shelf for nearly 3 years, but as it's longer than many international flights, or a day's work, I've not found the time to sit and watch it yet. Shame - but was planning to do so this summer. Although whenever I propose to friends, Anyone up for a B&W 8-hour Hungarian film about farmers? I'm met with doors flapping in the breeze.

Werckmeister has one of the best opening scenes ever: the drunk planetary dance. Shows how often very witty he can be. And Damnation is great - just as noir-ish as The Man from London. I like Tarr's stuff a lot - he makes a virtue out of patience (and numb arses). Good choice for the series, Robert.

JA said...

I've only seen Werckmeister and The Man From London so far - loved the former (that opening scene really is spectacularly, bizarrely moving), liked the latter - but I feel towards his films like I can't watch them more than one a year. I'd slip into a coma if I tried to do a bunch of them at once. Not an altogether unpleasant coma, but a coma all the same. Still one of these days/years I will set aside a day/year for Satantango, I swear it.

Joel said...

Haha Glenn it probably was he same screening! Though I counted upwards of 90 walkouts...

Robert said...

I definitely agree that he's not the sorta director you eat up film after film. You need a break (heck sometimes you need a break in the middle of his films).

I also liked but was underwhelmed by The Man From London. It seems a shame that it's been many peoples introduction to Tarr. If a movie is going to be slow and demanding it better be frickin' fantastic.

Glenn said...

Joel, I actually think you're right. I remember someone else saying they counted upwards of 100, so...