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Tarr’s Damnations

A Film World of Hungarian Director Béla Tarr

When reviewing retrospectives of films by the Hungarian director Béla Tarr, film critics regularly draw the line between his first three films — Family Nest (Családi tüzfészek, 1977), Outsider (Szabadgyalog, 1979-80) and The Prefab People (Panelkapcsolat, 1982), characterized by the so-called social realism and the later ’onthological’ phase in which he achieved his creative peak with seven and a half hours long Devil’s Tango. The author of the essay analyses Tarr’s directorial evolution attempting to prove that despite the differences between earlier and later films, similar thematic preoccupations can be found in all Tarr’s opus — desolation, moral disarray, manipulation and (self)destruction. She goes on to focus on the films of the so-called devil’s trilogy — Damnation (Kárhózat, 1987), Satantango (Sátántangó, 1994) i Werckmeister’s Harmonies (Werckmeiter harmóniák, 2000) made in cooperation with the Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai, in which Tarr’s poetics of chaos found the most appropriate expression.

First catalyst of the poetics of chaos in his last movies was the treatment of space. ’Social’ trilogy was quite authentically placed in the Hungarian suburbs and was mostly spatialy cramped, which gave it a certain dramatic, intimate tone. Dramaturgy of the Almanach of Fall was closed in the interior and theatrical mise-en-scene. Contrary to that, devil’s trilogy implanted its spatial ’geometry’ into the Panonic ’horizontal’ and assinged a special task to the setting. Physical space was so dominating that it has almost transformed into a mute protagonist of the film or the physical extension of the characters. The extension of space and ambiental geometry served Tarr’s temporal ’architecture’ and his narrative concept, which ingenously permeated in the largest part of the Devil’s Tango divided on 12 subtitled sections. In a macabre manner, Krasznahorkai and Tarr interweave the chronological time of action, synchronism of the compositional/story-line subsections, real time comprehended as duration, and finally, the abstract — metaphysical time as a sum of all these different times.

In the end, they obtained a cyclical temporal structure (and narration) after Bergsonian temporal model and Deleuzian idea of picture-time. Protagonists move through boundless space, through real and non-chronological time, which traps them and spins them in circles, resulting in total disorientation in time and space — of history, fictional film reality and its own fiction.
Text is supplemented by the Tarr’s filmography.

Diana Nenadić

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