Béla Tarr;…’Anti-movies & Tango’

“There were a lot of shit things in the cinema, a lot of lies. We weren’t knocking at the door, we just beat it down. We were coming with some fresh, new, true, real things. We just wanted to show the reality – anti-movies.” Béla Tarr

Béla Tarr (born July 21, 1955) is a Hungarian film director. He originally wanted to be a philosopher and considered film making to be a hobby.

“When we are making a movie, we only talk about concrete situations – where the camera is, what will be the first and the last shot. We never talk about art or God.” Béla Tarr (“We” is Tarr and his partner of more than 20 years, Agnes Hranitzky, who has edited all his films).

Their early work was hard social realism – working-class vignettes in tight, claustrophobic framings. Tarr never considered himself a political film-maker

“I hope we have some social sensibility – and of course, we are always with poor people and ugly people.” Béla Tarr

Tarr made his first short film at 16, and directed his first feature, Family Nest, in 1979 – an uncomfortable miniature about a young woman forced to live with her boorish in-laws due to Hungary’s extreme housing shortage. He attended film school after he made his first movie.

The Outsider (1981) was about a young bohemian and his variously boozy and druggy friends. That film, Tarr says, was as much a reaction against the Hungarian cinema of the time as it was against the political system.

“In all our movies, the location has a face. It looks like an actor.” Béla Tarr

“We wanted to do more poetic things” Agnes Hranitzky

“In the beginning, we were just talking about social conflicts, and then we were opening, opening, opening. Now we had to show the landscape and the time.” Béla Tarr

Their first landscape film, made on the sly in 1987, was ‘Damnation‘, written with Krasznahorkai: a noir-ish tale of betrayal in a crumbling mining town.

“When we did location scouting, we kept seeing the cable cars. It was awful weather, we were very poor and just trying to do something, but one thing was sure – the cable cars kept going. The most important part of these movies is mostly the location – you have to go and find the visual elements, something which is real.” Béla Tarr

Sátántangó (“Satan’s Tango”)

Is a 1994 Hungarian film directed by Béla Tarr. Shot in black-and-white, it runs for over 7 hours. It is based on the novel Satantango by Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, who has been providing Tarr with stories since his 1988 film ‘Damnation’.

Tarr had wanted to make the film since 1985 but was unable to proceed with the production due to the strict political environment in Hungary.

“We never use the script. We just write it for the foundations and the producers and we use it when looking for the money. The pre-production is a very simple thing. It takes always a minimum of one year. We spend a year looking all around and we see everything. We have a story but I think the story is only a little part of the whole movie.” Béla Tarr

The plot deals with the collapse of a collective farm in Hungary near the end of the Communist period. Several people on the farm are eager to leave with the cash they will receive for closing down the community, but they hear that the smooth-talking and charismatic Irimiás, who had disappeared over two years ago and whom they thought to be dead, is returning. Much of the film’s plot concentrates on the impact and consequences of Irimiás’ return through multiple POVs as the communards must cope not only with Irimiás’ scheming, but that of each other.

“You know I like the continuity, because you have a special tension. Everybody is much more concentrated than when you have these short takes. And I like very much to build things, to conceive the scenes, how we can turn around somebody, you know, all the movements implied in these shots. It’s like a play, and how we can tell something, tell something about life…Because it’s very important to make the film a real psychological process”. Béla Tarr; On why he likes long takes

Gus Van Sant cites him as a huge influence on his later work, beginning with Gerry (2002), when Gus Van Sant began using very long uninterrupted takes.

For a long time, Tarr was only a rumour for British cinephiles – his work had rarely been seen, although you occasionally met a French or American pundit who had emerged wild-eyed from Satantango to speak of endurance-length takes and non-stop rain. Tarr was particularly praised by Susan Sontag, who numbered his films among those “heroic violations of the norms” on which cinema’s future may depend.

No technique of cinema is as royal and as risky as the Long Take—audacious in its promise 
of unified time and space, terrifying in what that might imply. Inspired by the films of Hungarian 
auteur Bela Tarr, famous for his long take, and the novels and screenplays of Tarr’s great 
collaborator László Krasznahorkai, Janice Lee’s Damnation is both an ekphrasis and confession,
an obsessive response, a poetic meditation and mirror on time; time that ruthlessly pulls forward
with our endurance; time unleashed from chronology and prediction; time which resides in a 
dank, drunk, sordid hiss of relentless static. 
As declared in Tarr’s film Damnation, “All stories are about disintegration.”


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