22 Nov 2009

Director Showcase: Bela Tarr

Bela Tarr, born in Hungary in 1955 started life as an actor before moving into directing. He has often been regarded as a huge influence on many of today’s top directors. Gus Van Sandt for example, once stated that his film Gerry owed more than a modest debt to Tarr, with its long tracking shots and rationed dialogue being staples of the Hungarian’s work. Tarr first dreamed of being a philosopher and saw movie making as nothing more than a hobby. This was until he’d witnessed some 8mm film that had been banned in his home country, this revelation prompted him to study film-making at university.

After year of making amateur films, mostly documentaries about the lives or poor people and workers in urban Hungary Tarr eventually got noticed by Bela Balazs Studios who help finance his debut feature, Családi tűzfészek (Family Nest) released in 1977. Family nest was a bleak indictment of the communist housing policy in Hungary. The film conveyed perfectly how hard life was under the communist regime in place in 1970s Eastern Europe. Shot in 6 days with no professional actors the film was in keeping with the studios documentary releases up till that time.

Whilst studying he continued to release films such as Szabadgyalog (The Outsider) and the following year's Panelkapcsolat (The Prefab People) which continued in much the same vein as his debut. It wasn’t until Tarr started to collaborate with others writers that he made his first ‘critically acclaimed’ film Karhozat (Damnation). Damnation began to show audiences Tarr’s distinct style, long camera shots and mood building mise en scene. Many found it too long and ‘boring’ however the majority of the films viewers noticed a director with a skill for portraying the true ugliness of a suppressed country.

Where most directors would play it safe and continue such acclaim with another similar piece of work Tarr decided to step it up, not one notch but all the way up too eleven. A planned adaptation of Krasznahorkai's epic novel Satantano took over seven years to realize. The 415-minute film finally appeared in 1994. With hardly any dialogue and shot completely in black and white the film should have disappeared into world cinema oblivion. However it was revered as a masterpiece, a stunning visual piece of art that captured some of the beautiful scenery of Hungary’s countryside, no more than in the opening 10 minute long tracking shot. The story concerns a group of disadvantaged villagers who gets conned by a savvy, smart talker who was once one of their own into giving up all their money to go live on a non-existent communal farm. The first 4-1/2 hours is made up of 5 "stories" from the perspective of different characters over the course of the same day.

Tarr disappeared after this epic, only releasing a short 35 minute film Journey on the Plain in 1995. He returned though in 2000 with Werckmeister Harmonies. Sighted by many as his best piece of work it takes place in a small town on the Hungarian plains. Showing a small town descend into madness it follows the plague of these people whose only relief from the freezing weather that confines them to their poverty is a circus tent set up in the center of the town, a circus tent with more than meets the eye. A must-see for anyone who is interested in the recent history of Central-Eastern Europe and wants to understand it more.

Finally his most recent film is an adaptation of the Georges Simenon’s novel The Man From London. A tense thriller, Tarrs 15th full length film focuses on a switchboard operator who finds a mysterious bag full of money. However in keeping with his previous work it’s fair to say you shouldn’t expect a happy ending.

Tarr currently has two films in development The Turin Horse and one other untitled project and will be hoping to add to his Golden Palm at Cannes for The Man From London.

Patrick Gamble


• Family Nst (1997)
• The Outsider (1981)
• The Prefab People (1982)
• Autumn Almanac (1985)
• Damnation (1988)
• Satan's Tango (1994)
• Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
• The Man from London (2007)
• The Turin Horse (2009) (in pre-production)

Imdb Link


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