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Out of Tarr's Universe

An uncompromised vision (FW34)

Out of Tarr's universe
Filmwaves 34
Torrential rain. He makes his way over the uneven surface, comes closer. His left shoulder towards us, in side view against the backdrop of the cliff. His light trenchcoat covers him down to his knees. Rain and mud have left irregular patterns on it, added shades of grey and near black to its initial light colour. His hair is still dark, but has begun to thin on the top. He comes to a corner, where he encounters a dog. The dog barks loudly. It stands atop an incline, higher than the man. Their heads are on the same level. The dog is black. Barking. The man comes closer to the dog. On all fours he climbs up to him, begins to growl, then he barks back. It is misty. Rain is pouring. We are on muddy ground. Man and dog, dog and man, moving in circles on all fours. He on his knees. Rubbish, planks of wood stacked on top of each other, the backdrop for their encounter. What started tentatively has become perfectly natural now. They move quickly. Face to face, circling. Freeze for a second. Tension. Heads close to one another. Barking mouth to barking mouth. It is cold. Each bark leaves a dusky trace in the air. Then the man gets up onto his feet. From above his barking gains in impact. He barks and growls, as if no word had ever passed his lips. More circling. Two stumbling feet, one noisy mouth, arms pressed by his sides, bent forward at the waist. Bigger circles, distance. The dog whines and moves back. Victory – On two feet, upright, while still not quiet straight, the man stumbles away, making guttural indecipherable noises His arms hanging down. The camera withdraws slowly. He disappears. Endless rain, mud, all there is. Silence if it would not be for the rain…1 Tarr’s universe, where human misery is at ease with its environment. Rain a permanent fixture, soaking the endless stretches of rural wasteland, running down closely observed textured walls. Its monotone somehow calming sound takes on the role of a reoccurring musical theme. Rain is not an external thing, its dampness finds its way right down to the bone, settles in the soul. It is a hostile place, the setting for the tale of human betrayal and loneliness. Tarr’s universe, where the story is bare, a secondary thing. It provides the structure for the subtle to unfold. Locations are equal to characters. We contemplate them, have time to become familiar with their peculiarities. Often we arrive at a location before the characters enter the frame, stay there after they have left. Temps mort, our breeding ground, has never been more alive. Scenery and natural elements tell their own stories, in their own time. Breathing still lives that sometimes get invaded by the characters. We do not have to follow, as they walk in and out. Off-screen noise, off-screen action, reminds us of the world beyond the frame. A camera that reveals, while at the same time denying. Attention is drawn to what escapes our gaze. It is self-conscious directing. The frame always also refers to what lies outside of it, to the subjective nature of cinematic reality. We are in a dark room. The only light comes from a slightly off centred window. Repetitious sound: an otherworldly drone. The camera is static. Time passes. As if to witness the break of dawn, light gradually increases. First we see the dark greys becoming lighter, while the area around the window remains black. Slowly shadow like forms appear, but it is still too dark to identify them. A man enters the frame. He walks to the window, stands in front of it. His back towards us. His dark silhouette shows against the light. Outlines define themselves. We recognize the interior of a domestic space: a cupboard, chairs, a small round mirror, old-fashioned wallpaper. Recognisable, yet still in the shade of vagueness. The monotone drone, dark and uncomfortable. After a short while, the man turns around and walks back. His steps are uneven, a slight limping. He pauses, stands to the left. His body takes up one third of the frame. Head, shoulders and feet are off-screen. His trunk – a black mass. Then he goes again to the window, putting weight on the right foot, pulling the left one after. Details of the interior become visible as increasing light gives away, lines, patterns and textures. One hand on the curtain. Head close to the window. He looks through it, then moves his head away. Stands there, sunken inwards, head down. There is just enough light to recognise the muscular pattern of his upper arm, see his elbow. Palms flat on the table, supporting his weight. Again, he looks through the window, turns around and walks towards us, leaves the frame. Our gaze remains the same. We hear more off-screen noise, then a woman’s voice, asking something. He answers. We maintain our position. Content with one frame, we rest. We become familiar with this side of the room, while we wonder how the rest looks, who the woman is. A reversed opening shot, leaving us in a state, where we cannot locate ourselves. We experience a slight tension from being denied, rather than exposed. The singularity of the shot refers to all there could be. It speaks of literature’s great potential: to evoke. 2

The absence of the cut. Raw and unfiltered time. Our eyes travel over a space that constantly opens up. We gain what editing takes away: the chance to find relevance and emphasis ourselves. Meditative, contemplative, demanding: the long take, cinema of continuity. Information, cut replaced by confidence in transcending the passive viewer position. We enter into a partnership, re-seeing and re-exploring. We feel the presence of the characters. Real life. People who are never more or less than a part of their environment. We get to know and understand them, through spending time with them and the world they are living in. In respectful distance, we observe. Slowly they reveal their personage. Estike walks fast, in a trance like state. We hear the sound of her steps. Wind’s breath. A few hours went by. Something did happen. Estike, a young girl of about eight years has just killed her cat. "I am stronger than you," she had whispered, while torturing it. A tight grip around its neck, she had dipped the cat’s head into a pot, forcing rat poisoned milk into it. Then she had leant back on the far end of the barn wall, watching life slipping out of it. Preceding events triggered it and further ones will finally make her take her own life. Face to face: she walks, we track. Instead of emotions, blankness. Eyes wide open, a round child face that does not change. Expression embodied within the dramatic impulse of her action, while the face reveals nothing. She stands out from the unfocused background. The blurred landscape looks unreal. Trees pass. She walks down the empty street. Steady, one foot in front of the other. Her mouth slightly open. A crotched caftan over an old-fashioned dress. The stiff cat tucked tightly under her arm. Her eyes gaze down in front of her. She walks, we track. It is her presence that we feel. Her voice has a rare and almost unpleasant sound. Though we have rarely heard it. We have spent time with her, mainly uneventful time. Watched her sitting on a plank of wood, starring into the rural wasteland. Walked with her through the dark forest. Saw her looking through the window into the pub. We stayed with her as she was spying on her prostitute mother and found out that her brother had stolen her money. For a good part, it becomes her movie, her little story that is inevitably tied up to her surroundings. Two wide-open eyes, starring. She walks, we track. To share silence, to become comfortable with the absence of words, it is intimacy that unfolds. Inner states are accessed through a detour. Her opaqueness does not burden us with outer manifestations. Immediate exhaustibility is denied, emotional involvement counterbalanced. This distance in reverse brings us closer to her, for it is from our own depth that we have to draw. 3

Tarr’s universe, an intense and honest engagement. Sensibility and interest for the banal, the every day, mediated through style. Visual pleasure. Immaculately composed, brilliantly photographed. A graceful camera. We come closer to life, while at the same time maintain a reflective distance. Tarr’s universe, where dark images alternate with light ones, become all the darker after the pale and misty. Where words are rare, not to be wasted. At times they follow one another, form a denseness that plays off the silence preceding and following. We glide through space, endlessly stalking, then motionless we rest. The dance of opposites. Impact in relation to the other. Each long shot establishes a sense of materiality, a temporal denseness. It emphasises the moment, concentrates on the singular. Action, sound and camera work in their repetition form rhythmical patterns. Caught in the drama of the moment, perception for change is heightened. The cut, a major event. An aging man. Short white hair, few deep lines in his face. The close-up reveals his head and shoulders. Behind him unfocused, a large bookshelf on the left, a white door on the right. We face him motionless. His eyes gaze down. A microphone close to his mouth, he speaks: "I have to make it clear that not even for a moment is there a doubt that it is not a technical but a philosophical question that…" he pauses as the door opens slowly. Out of reflex, rather than interest, he turns his head, just a little, not enough to see the man who enters "the tonal system in question," he continues, "through research, has led us inevitably to a test of faith, in which we ask: On what do we base our believe that this harmony, the core of every masterpiece, referring to its own irrevocability actually exists or not?" His face is sincere. His voice dark and monotone. No need for rhetoric. He seems to speak solely to himself. Tender and fragile. One word after the other, verbalising an honest and somehow frightening concern. Slowly and carefully, he puts the same emphasis on each word. Short intervals between the sentences. He looks towards the other man on the left. Counterbalancing the movement of his head, the camera begins to move to the right and zooms in. His face and most of his forehead fill the frame. We are close, intimately close as he continues to lay his thoughts bare: " We should speak of, not research into music, but a unique realisation of non-music which for centuries has been covered up and a dreadful scandal which we should disclose. Hence the shameful situation that all the intervals in the masterpieces of many centuries are false." By now we have done a half circle. Briefly we are facing his back. Then continue to stalk him from the remaining angles. His head moves slightly as he speaks into his microphone: "Which means that music and its harmony and echo its unsurpassable enchantment is entirely based on a false foundation. Yes, we have to speak of an indisputable deception, even if those who are less sure, a little moderate, babble on about compromises. But what kind of compromise when for the majority pure musical tonality is simply illusion and truly pure musical intervals do not exist?" 360 degrees, a complete circle. We have gained a full view of the man. Have moved from the front, to the side and the back, then to the other side until we find ourselves facing him once again, though not for long, as we glide further to the left, where the man who entered earlier sits. Now in focus, his appearance is that of a young introverted person. For a moment we stay with him, hear the progression of the monologue off-screen. Then we travel back and embark on another journey around the head of the speaker. One circle after the other. Camera movement and speech take on a sense of materiality. What will happen next? When? We are caught in the drama of the moment, its monotonous denseness. Restless we drift through space, soak up each syllable, just to rest motionless again, enjoy the silence after anew. 4 We are in Bela Tarr’s universe, a convincing parallel world with its own laws, its own logic. A universe out of joint. The human being as a doomed enterprise. Eternally suffering, rushing towards death, or rather fleeing the catastrophe of birth. Burdened with consciousness it faces its absurd condition. And in doing so, becomes tragically comic. The creature of self-pity - mankind. When it reflects upon its disgraceful nature, it cannot but burst into laughter. It is the one, which after all can retreat into detachment, can distance itself from itself. The mocking one, annoying and entertaining itself with its continuous mourning. When one goes all the way into one direction, one comes out at the opposite end. Maybe? Is where bleakness becomes funny, misery turns into hope, selfneglect becomes a passionate embrace? Tarr’s universe, always detached, always respectful. One vision one idea, uncompromised. A bleakly comic reflection on the human condition. Polemic in its pessimisms, it is nevertheless democratic, for it invites us, engages with us on many different levels. It is a somehow wholesome experience. A journey, rather than a moral lesson. Facing the worst of what we can be, we may be able to regain pride and grace, and if it is just for the fact, that we diagnose. The interior of local pub. We linger on what seem endless in duration and infinite in absurdity: The town’s people full of alcohol, dancing on wobbly feet. Six steps forward, six steps back, in circles endlessly. Sin lurking behind every corner. Drinking and cheating. And even joy seems to be drenched in misery. An accordion player repeats the same tune over and over. He joins the dancing crowd, stumbles rhythmically through the room, while his fingers find the notes. A couple dances in the background. She smiles. He throws one arm up in the air, proudly. An admirer flirts with someone’s wife, while the husband balances a cheese bun on his forehead. A bearded man pushes and pulls the people. Two men accompany the monotone accordion tunes by banging their walking sticks on the table. The man with the bun on his head walks through the frame. He sits down on a bench, bun still up, he takes a drink. His dancing wife turns her head to him and shouts something. Then, while dancing she tries to hit him a couple of times. Not without compassion. Wife and admirer continue their wild dance, swing each other around, while the husbands seems to find some sort of pride in his balancing act. Pleased with himself he fills his glass anew. He sits next to the guy who is drumming his walking stick on the table, not rhythmically, just steady. The bearded man harasses the dancing couple at the back. He pushes them. Then takes a crate and tries to empty it over the couple. The bottles land around them. The husband has dropped his bun, as he walked over to the other side of the room. Bun up again he continues his performance. The bearded man lies down on a bench, occasionally kicking others with his feet. From a slightly high angle we observe the scene, contemplate its joyful madness. What is this creature, mankind? Somewhere between God and worm. Sympathy mixes with repulsion. There seems to be some kind of order within this chaos of booze and stumbling gumboots. Few tunes that hardly change. Six steps forward, six steps back. In circles, one arm up occasionally. Bun in position, sticks hit the table. The same over and over…5

Nadine Poulain


  1. Damnation
  2. 2. Satantango
  3. 3. Satantango
  4. 4. Werkmeister Harmonies
  5. 5. Werkmeister Harmonies