Tarr Bela, I Used To Be a Filmmaker (2013, Jean-Marc Lamoure)

A making-of-The Turin Horse. Crazy the amount of work, the lighting and helicopters and camera rehearsals and actor-torturing that went into this. Tarr’s movies tend to look primitive and masterfully complicated at once (see: opening shot of the horse and cart) and it seems like a behind-the-scenes documentary could demystify it to death, but I’d already seen set-building stills and couldn’t help myself from wanting to know more. Even when they show the scene construction then immediately play the scene, it’s still just as powerful.

Also watched part of The Turin Horse again with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s audio commentary. Can’t recall if this is a direct quote or not, but he calls it possibly the only Bela Tarr film that’s not a comedy. Writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai has a terrific paragraph on their collaboration quoted in the commentary about 42 minutes in, which I played back a bunch of times, also written here. “Making films isn’t a matter of fairness.”

Damnation (2013, Janice Lee)

“This is no weather for men to live in.”

Been looking forward to this book for a long time, but it turns out it wasn’t for me. Maybe the endless anticipation and delay didn’t help – after all, I read Susan Howe’s Chris Marker book the same day I first heard about it, and the surprise of its existence added to the enjoyment, but this one had already gone from pleasure to chore by the time I began. The ebook was sent to me by the publisher before it came out (thank you! apologies for this “review” and the two-year delay). I prepped by watching the Bela Tarr film, then discovered that I hate reading books on my laptop, so kept pushing it aside after trying to start a few times.

Opens as a biblical PontypoolFlame Alphabet apocalypse, and heads into variations on Tarr/Krasznahorkai worlds: guys compared to dogs, sleeping with neighbors’ wives, watching the endless rain. Ruined towns, howling wind, blank pages like the blackouts between scenes. Some more specific characters, like a drunken Satantango doctor, a disturbed girl in the barn with a scared cat, a lingering accordion player. Speaking of Pontypool (the book, not the movie), there are too many points of view, and much language repetition that felt like it was building a poetic flow which I couldn’t follow at all.

Hotel Magnezit (1978, Bela Tarr)

Belligerent Uncle Tibi is getting kicked out of hostel, has money problems with his roommates. This was Béla Tarr’s graduation film, and is my first exposure to his earlier verite-style.

From the uncredited film description: “First he offends and attacks all of his roommates, then he starts to cry and tells them that he was a pilot in WWII and he’s left his soul there. An interesting portrait of human reactions and changing emotions.”

Karrer (Futaki in Satantango) is kind of a loser. Dumped by his married girlfriend, he hangs out at local bars in a mining town until one bartender hires him to transport a package. So he talks the married girlfriend and her husband into helping him – they must be the only people he knows – and oh, how he talks them into it:

“This way it’s a nice family story. But it finishes like any other story, because stories end badly. Stories are all stories of disintegration. The heroes always disintegrate, and they disintegrate the same way.”

I’m not sure about the details. A coat check woman philosophizes. Karrer gets back with his girl, whose husband is in debt. The package has been opened. Things are missing. Karrer ends up at a police station. “It was this awful inner tension that brought me here, because of my deep respect for order. Please do not consider my report as a confidential case, but cheap tattling, and I authorize you, if necessary, to mention my name.”

Karrer ends the movie out in a junkyard barking at a dog.

Along the way: long shots, pouring rain, 4:3 b/w cinematography. Bela Tarr-like. It’s supposed to be the movie that kicked off Tarr’s long-take style, which means now I have only the social realist early films to check out. Finally watched this because I got a free preview offer for Janice Lee’s new Bela Tarr-inspired book, also entitled Damnation. Apologies to the publisher, but I am months and months behind right now – still looking forward to reading the book, and will post on it when I do.

P. Bradshaw: “Any conceivable drama or furtive eroticism latent in all this is entirely passed over in favour of a dark and general assessment of the futility of it all. It is as if Tarr has disengaged from these preposterous local activities and stepped back to inspect the bigger picture. … This is not a film that will have you whistling a happy tune on your way out of the theatre. In fact, a responsible manager will demand your tie and bootlaces on the way in.”

Bela Tarr is back, with the same crew he’s been using since Damnation (plus DP Fred Kelemen, a relative newcomer). And he is BACK this time, with another wind-filled, nearly apocalyptic-feeling black-and-white masterpiece. It seems almost like a horror film, which seemed exciting until I remembered that Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango could be just as bleak.

Everything in the movie seems concrete and real, pre-existing the film by decades. The characters are real too, even though I recognize the daughter. Once I realized the father has a bad arm that he never uses, I didn’t wonder why the actor or filmmakers decided to add that detail – I wondered what happened to the poor man’s arm. And yet, with its long takes and methodically roving camera, sometimes shoving the camera right in the face of a person or horse, I’m constantly thinking about the film’s structure and photography. Knowing Tarr’s love for artificial weather, at one point when the camera turned in an unexpected direction outdoors, I was actually surprised not to catch sight of a giant wind machine. I can’t figure out how Tarr manages to hold this atmosphere of complete reality with showy technique.

Having read no plot summaries, I was surprised that this turned out so similar to the second half of Melancholia, which I also watched this month. Both are about a small, isolated group who we gradually realize may be facing the end of the world. But Von Trier tells us about his apocalypse ahead of time. Tarr’s heroes don’t have access to google.

A cart driver (Janos Derzsi, a killer in The Man From London, Kraner in Satantango) lives with his daughter (Erike Bok, the lead couple’s daughter in Man From London, cat tormenter in Satantango) in a small house away from the main town. Besides a chatterbox neighbor who shows up one day to borrow some brandy and a band of gypsies who stop at the well for a few minutes, they are the only two people in the movie. After the prologue they barely leave the house, so we get to know their routines and mannerisms – but Tarr shoots repeated actions in a different way each time. For instance, at the first dinner scene it’s a tight shot on the father’s face as he peels and eats his potato in a great hurry while it’s still too hot. Next time we watch the daughter instead, from further away over her father’s arm. And the third time it’s a two-shot with the camera centered on the table.

Of course I counted shots. Might be off by one or two, but it’s definitely fewer than Werckmeister Harmonies, which was the same length. Five-minute average!

Prologue (1): After a black-screen voiceover tells us the title story, about Nietzche losing his mind after protecting a horse that was being brutally whipped. The man rides his cart home, the story in our minds as the camera watches his horse, which doesn’t seem to be suffering.

The First Day (4): The girl comes out and they put the cart and horse in the barn. She helps him change clothes. They each have a potato then go to bed, after taking turns staring out the window. “The woodworms: they’re not making any noise. I’ve heard them for 58 years, but I don’t hear them now.” A narrator unexpectedly bursts in, telling us the man’s name (Ohlsdorfer), that he’s the girl’s father (I assumed) and that it’s windy out (heh).

The Second Day (7): She gets water at the well, helps father dress. They gear up the horse, but it won’t move. After some attempts with the whip (nothing that would give Nietzche a breakdown), they give up, put the cart and horse back and give it fresh food. Dressing again. He splits wood one-handed while she does laundry. Potatoes. Then the neighbor wanting brandy. We’re not sure what to make of his rant (does it come from Nietzche?). “The wind’s blown [the town] away. It’s gone to ruin. Everything’s in ruins.” Then he gets more abstract, about how “they” have acquired and debased everything, that no god exists, nor does anything. “Extinguished and burnt out.” In five minutes he delivers more than half the dialogue in the entire 150-minute film.

The Third Day (5): Water at the well, father gets dressed, off to the barn. The horse hasn’t eaten, has no energy. They don’t even try to make it pull the cart, just retreat back indoors. A gypsy cart approaches and the man gets anxious. The daughter tries to shoo them away as they get water from the well – one grabs her, “Come with us to America!” The father chases them off with a hatchet. Back indoors, she reads the book a gypsy gave her, something about the violation of holy places, ending with the words “Morning will turn to night… night will end…” before she’s cut off by the narrator telling us more about the wind.

The Fourth Day (6): The well is dry. The horse won’t eat. He’s had enough, decides they need to move. They pack their possessions into the hand cart and head off, the horse walking behind. In a wide shot, they walk past a distant tree, over a hill beyond which the camera can’t see. In a minute they’re back on our side of the hill, returning home, wordlessly unpacking. The camera is outside in the wind as the girl stares out the window.

The Fifth Day (5): Wake up, have some brandy, give up on the horse. Dad barely eats, stares out the window. Then a blackout. No sun. They light the lamps, but a few minutes later those go out too, though they’re full of oil. “Tomorrow we’ll try again.”

The Sixth Day (1): Dim light (is it really there, or is the film cheating?). No water, no fire. He attempts to eat a raw potato while she stares into her empty dish.

J. Romney:

Composer Mihaly Vig contributes an intermittent score, leaden with organ and abrasive violin, that alludes to folk music while also invoking the repetitions of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich. The omnipresent sound of a raging gale has a quasi-musical presence of its own.

R. Koehler in Cinema Scope:

The film’s text . . . can be pegged as a tale of an oncoming apocalypse with great implications for today’s viewers. Such a reading tends to ignore the story’s essential absurdist essence, the will to go on despite all dire signs to the contrary. The Turin Horse is as much tied to Samuel Beckett as it is to Friedrich Nietzsche.

Fred Kelemen reveals that the house was outfitted with around 30 lights on dimmers – the natural-looking light completely faked. And in addition to wind machines, they sometimes used a helicopter.

Kelemen on the moving camera: “It is like the movement of thoughts, your thoughts move and you reveal something. We move in the world and by moving we discover and understand. The human being is a moving being — physically and spiritually — not a stationary one. The moving image is thus a thinking image.”

In a separate article, Koehler says it’s wrong to call the film apocalyptic, but I don’t follow his reasoning. “Tarr’s cinematic design begins with elaborate camera dances, the pure celebration of cinematic movement through space, and ends with absolute stasis and darkness.”

Tarr Noir! Tarr doing suspense/crime drama seems unnecessary since his use of the camera and film editing are suspenseful in itself. The crime doesn’t seem that important (until the very end) and the lead guy is kind of an ass, so the suspense remains in the shots and editing, not much carries over into the story. To get my other complaint out of the way (I quite liked the movie), the sound is off because everything is distractingly dubbed into French and English (voices include Edward Fox of Gandhi and The Duellists and Michael Lonsdale of Stavisky and Out 1). It must be for commercial reasons, but I don’t see it playing anywhere except a few film festivals, so what commercial reasons? Seeing the cast of Satantango hanging out in the bar only makes the dubbing seem weirder. Research indicates that there’s a Hungarian version out there, so I guess Tilda Swinton (French-dubbed in my version) gets screwed in both.


Big-time Euro film producer Humbert Balsan (who worked with Youssef Chahine, Merchant/Ivory, Elia Suleiman, Lars von Trier) committed suicide during production, complicating things. Based on a novel by Georges Simenon (Night at the Crossroads, Betty, Magnet of Doom) which has been filmed before in the 40’s. I dig the Mihály Vig music, but it’s no Werckmeister Harmonies, which I listened to obsessively for a month.


Offscreen, a man is selling his theater for a suitcase full of money, which gets stolen. The thieves get the suitcase onto the docks, under the watchful eye of stoic Maloin, then one kills the other and runs. Maloin snags the money and hides it. That’s the first half hour in maybe six or seven shots, with no dialogue at all. Crisp b/w images with achingly slow, fluid camera movements, as can be expected.


Maloin takes time out from the crime drama to torment his family. He pulls daughter Henrietta (cat-torturing poster girl from Satantango) out of work, buys her furs, then gets screamed at by wife Tilda Swinton. Inspector (from London) questions blond killer Brown. We don’t find out exactly how Maloin kills Brown at the end before returning the money to the Inspector. That’s about it for the plot. Most of the time a very enjoyable flick. Moments of otherworldly Twin Peaks-ish parody during dubbed dialogue scenes are immediately forgiven when we come across some Satantango actors performing random hilarity in the bar, urged on by an accordianist. If Tarr fans can’t have the sustained magic of the last couple movies, at least we can all enjoy some drunken accordian antics together.


Visions of Europe is a 2004 anthology film with shorts by various directors about the current state of the continent, which I’ve already started to watch earlier and still may never finish. Pretty hit or miss.

The Miracle (Martin Sulik)
An immaculate conception story, the girl’s parents and priest trying to get answers. God’s message, via the girl, “We mustn’t build tower blocks. The big ones must heed the small. We need to travel more to resist the false messiah.” Weird, kinda spooky. Not sure if the floating coffee cup at the end helped or not.

Anna Lives In Marghera (Francesca Comencini)
Briskly edited montage of an Italian student who participates in Rage Against The Machine-soundtracked political protests and prays when she’s not working on her thesis about industrial pollution.

Children Lose Nothing (Sharunas Bartas)
A girl collects frogs. Two boys fight over a girl. A paper boat! Finely photographed brownish little art short. Symbolic of something!

Room For All (Constantine Giannaris)
Talking heads tell us about the immigrant experience in Greece. Giannaris just made a movie called Gender Pop – the title alone is more interesting than this.

Prologue (Béla Tarr)
Loooong black-and-white dolly shot (imagine that) with pretty music by Mihaly Vig showing hundreds of people waiting in line to get food. Tibor Takacs was one name in the credits – could it be the director of The Gate?

Invisible State (Aisling Walsh)
A serious man in a suit tells us angrily about human trafficking. “They will tell of Irish eyes not smiling.” Walsh made a teary Aidan Quinn drama the previous year.

Crossroad (Malgorzata Szumowska)
The adventures of a catholic cross outdoors at a crossroad. Eventually some coroners take down the classic Jesus and replace it with a blobby new plastic Jesus. Was it supposed to be funny? I found it kinda funny.

Paris By Night (Tony Gatlif)
Immigrants on the run, one of them injured, run through the Paris streets to some good music. Jarmuschy. Same year as Gatlif’s acclaimed Exiles.

Wallace & Gromit’s Cracking Contraptions (2002)
Ten W&G shorts. I think these were made to promote the full-length film… of course I had the chance to watch them back then and somehow put it off for seven years. Anyway these are cute – faves were The Snoozatron (a machine that dresses G. up as a sheep and flips him on a trampoline so W. can “count” him and fall asleep) and The Turbo Diner (a table-setting device exactly a la Charley Bowers in He Done His Best).

All This And Rabbit Stew (1941, Tex Avery)
Tex’s final Bugs short before moving to MGM. Hooray, now that I’ve watched those John Ford movies I can recognize that the offensive black stereotype hunter is based on Stepin Fetchit. I tried telling myself that if he didn’t look African the character would basically be Elmer Fudd – but then Bugs gets out of being held at gunpoint by shaking some dice and that idea goes out the window. Ouch.

Vivian (Bruce Conner, 1964)
If you liked a girl in the 1960’s, you made an avant-garde film of her. Harvard Film Archive: “An ecstatic portrait of actress Vivian Kurtz that features footage of a 1964 Conner exhibition and couches a humorous critique of the art market.” Set to a pop song called Mona Lisa, loads of fun and only three minutes long. This would go on my “best of a-g” gift reel if it wasn’t such a problem to make such a thing.

Journey on the Plain (1995, Bela Tarr)
Poems about friendship loss, life and death, each with a long tracking shot (imagine that), written by famed Hungarian poet Sándor Petöfi and performed by one of my favorite film music composers, Mihály Vig (Irimiás from Sátántangó, in color!). Suddenly in one scene 20 minutes in, he’s on a truck loudly playing a doomed keyboard. An odd movie, peaceful and beautiful. I would gladly watch again, paying more attention to the words of the poems.



Thriller (1979, Sally Potter)

A narrator goes over the story and characters of an opera, then analyzes it while staring into a mirror, memory and identity swirling about. Very art-film, told in black-and-white stills and scenes, narrator all heavily french-accented. Kind of entrancing, really, with repeated poses and images and phrases, never quite turning into something I can make sense of (though I hear it’s some kind of marxist-feminist critique of Freud and contemplation of human existence, thanks to a useful, knowledgeable and well-considered review on the IMDB – a rare thing indeed).

Sony Pictures: “a critical re-working of Puccini’s opera La Boheme, was a cult hit on the international festival circuit.” Sudden bursts of the shower theme from Psycho. “Yes, it was murder. We never got to know each other. Perhaps we could have loved each other.” I need to see it again, obviously, but I’m not dying to do so anytime soon.

from K. McKim’s great Senses of Cinema article

Potter’s 16 mm black and white cult hit Thriller (1979) overtly equates revision with survival; the film invokes formal conventions to interrogate the narrative necessity of Mimi’s death. Inscribing this inquiry within allusion to female murder victims (Thriller cites Bernard Hermann’s screeching Psycho score), Mimi questions the conventions that locate meaning in the death of a young beautiful woman. Scripted, edited, produced and directed by Potter, Thriller transforms the opera into, as the title suggests, a thriller that uncovers operatic form’s generic and gendered hypocrisy.



Dottie Gets Spanked (1993, Todd Haynes)
Wow, this was great. Boy with a mommy complex idolizes an I Love Lucy-esque TV show, wins a contest and gets to visit the set. Movie swirls with repression and fantasy and budding sexuality.

The distributor: “anticipates … Far from Heaven with its excavation of placid mid-century surfaces and deeply-buried emotions.” R. Lineberger: “This short film was commissioned by the Independent Television Service as part of a search for short films about American television. The pairing is perfect. Haynes is subversive, but approachable. His film deals with ominous and disturbing themes, but he never comes out and says anything objectionable. For example, Steven’s father is suggested to be violent, or at least sharply critical, but we never actually see any aggressiveness from him. The whispered consequences and punishments exist in glances, or in Steven’s thoughts.”



13 Screen Tests (1964-66, Andy Warhol)

Rented Warhol’s screen tests sorta against my will (I just wanted to hear the new Dean & Britta songs) then proceeded to half-watch ’em while listening to the music. The films were better than I thought (that Edie Sedgwick has got something, and Lou Reed and Dennis Hopper are funny) and the music was worse (standard instrumentals, a few new songs and some covers). I did try watching a screen test straight through, the way I’m supposed to, to see if I experienced a sudden tingly appreciation for the Cult of Andy, but it didn’t work; maybe I picked the wrong one.

G. Comenas:

Factory visitors who had potential “star” quality would be seated in front of a tripod mounted camera, asked to be as still as possible, and told not to blink while the camera was running. … Some of the earliest Screen Tests were those included in Warhol’s film The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys. … More than 500 Screen Tests were made. In addition to The 13 Most Beautiful Boys, some of the footage was incorporated into other compilation reels such as The 13 Most Beautiful Women (1964) and 50 Fantastics and 50 Personalities (1964).

LA Times:

Each test lasted as long as a single 100-foot roll of film. Each was shot at 24 frames per second and projected at two-thirds of that speed, a trick Warhol often used. Each took a little less than three minutes to film, and takes a little more than four to watch. The slow-motion effect adds a discernible flicker, heightens every movement and contributes to the dreamy, ghostly quality.


“Storyboards are stupid, stupid things.” – Béla Tarr

37 shots (not counting credits) in 145 minutes, so average 4-minute shots, with all but a handful of scenes contained within a single shot. Camera usually in slow, gliding motion. Stark b/w photography.

Same editor as Tarr’s previous films (Tarr’s wife, now also credited as co-director), same composer and same author of the source novel. Similar in look and feel to Satantango for sure, which means it’s long and slow in a beautiful and captivating way. I never get bored watching these movies, and I don’t even have a theory for why that is… they ought to be boring as all hell, especially Satantango, but I’d gladly watch each one again.

From reading the credits you’d think it’s a grand communal project, not a film by one clear artistic voice. IMDB credits six people for cinematography, unbelievable, including a Kansas native (an acclaimed indie filmmaker), a French steadicam operator who worked on Amelie and The Science of Sleep, and unsurprisingly the guy who is sole credited cinematographer for Satantango and Damnation. Must read source novel sometime, “The Melancholy of Resistance” by Laszlo Krasznahorkai.

Opens in a bar at closing time, Janos Valuska positioning the other bar patrons into a model of the solar system, the camera spinning and rotating around them.


Janos walks to uncle Gyuri’s house (how does Tarr manage to make walking scenes the highlights of his films?) to put him to bed. Stops outside to watch a massive truck slowly roll into town, carrying an exhibition with a giant stuffed whale, various curiosities in jars, and “the prince”, a mysterious dwarf.

Next morning, townspeople are all alarmed, talking doom and destruction. Janos delivers some papers, goes back to his composer uncle Gyuri’s house and listens to Gyuri give a strange music-conspiracy speech.


Walks through the town square where groups of people are gathered whispering rumors amonst themselves. Thinking himself less naive and superstitious than the rest, Janos pays his 100 forints (about 50 cents) and tours the trailer. Walks home, sees uncle Lajos, must be tired by now cuz I can’t figure when Janos sleeps… but no time for rest, because his aunt Tunde (Gyuri’s estranged wife) comes with threatening news.


If Janos doesn’t get Gyuri to help her efforts gathering a town decency committee (presumably to eject the whale exhibition), she will move back into Gyuri’s house and make his life hell. So Gyuri and Janos get right on that.


They get some lunch, carry on, finally part and Janos goes back to the square, where he is accosted by the ever-more-restless townpeople gathered there. I’m starting to wonder if all of these are townspeople, or if some are outsiders drawn by the exhibition (which nobody but Janos is ever seen entering). Janos visits aunt Tunde to report, but she is with a raving police chief and Janos is sent to put the chief’s rowdy kids to bed. Okay, by now Janos has got to be tired, but he walks back to the square (sees uncle Lajos on the way) and sneaks into the trailer, hearing the trailer guy talking with the Prince (seen only in shadow) raving about chaos and destruction. Janos escapes and runs, hearing explosions in the distance behind him, presumably caused by the Prince’s riot-provoking megalomaniacal speech to the crowd.


Janos hides while the townsfolk smash up the trailer (off-camera) and tear up a hospital for some reason, terrorizing the people within including a very sad naked old man. Aftermath of that, everyone files slowly out of the hospital, Janos walks around and discovers uncle Lajos dead, and army men interview Tunde.


Back home, Janos sees aunt Harrer looking for her husband Lajos. She tells Janos that the army men are looking for him and he should flee town. He does so, running along the train rails until a helicopter catches him.


Gyuri is visiting Janos in a hospital. Is Janos mad? “Nothing counts. Nothing counts at all.” Gyuri leaves, walks through the square, examines the eye of the whale laid out on the destroyed trailer in the middle of town.


Main actor (Janos) is german Lars Rudolph (The Princess and the Warrior). His uncle Gyuri Harrer is Peter Fitz (Au revoir, les enfants) and aunt Tunde is Hanna Schygulla (star of Marriage of Maria Braun and other Fassbinders). Guy who played Petrina (Irimiás’s sidekick) in Satantango shows up as a hotel porter, and Janos’s neighboring aunt and uncle (I’m unclear whether these people are all actual aunts and uncles) played Halics and Mrs. Kráner in Satantango. I recognized Mrs. Schmidt in a scene as well.

Visual themes of space, shadows, enormity, eclipses, light disappearing.

MovieMartyr: “The film’s title gains meaning when János overhears his uncle György, a cooped-up music theorist, talk about tonal scales. He explains that the Werckmeister scale, upon which the musical octave is based, is a false construct, and is not true to natural sound since it cannot convey the full range possible in nature. He elaborates, stating that since all music is based on this faulty foundation, it is all inherently false. With his description of these musical concepts, György seems to tap into the film’s undercurrents. Certainly, the defective musical scale is roughly analogous to the broken political state of the country that the film is set in. His suggestion that all music is unnatural seems to set up a competition between the natural and unnatural (light and dark) that runs throughout the work. That he’s driven his wife Tünde out of his house with his obsession toward his out of tune piano doesn’t bother him in the least.”

Scope: “The climactic storming of the hospital, and the formation of the mob, is given more significance in the film than the novel. And although such an alteration suggests that Tarr intends Werckmeister Harmonies to be read as an allegory of fascist violence, the film does not offer any specific political causes for the violence. Rather, Tarr situates the violence as a function of modernity and industrialization, and, more abstractly, as having a cosmological basis.”

Sight & Sound: “The one truly identifiable centre of malevolence is Tünde, a reactionary opportunist exploiting superstition to gain power in the name of order. It may even be that her musicologist ex-husband Eszter, obsessed with the theories of 17th-century German composer Werckmeister, has himself contributed to disturbing the harmonic order of things by withdrawing from any active involvement; at the very least he is a representative of an enfeebled intelligentsia, vainly fiddling with abstractions while the world burns.” … “In the end the defeated thinker Eszter finally visits the whale, now beached and exposed in the wrecked square and more inscrutable than ever. It’s hard to imagine a more downbeat ending the complete triumph of entropy and reaction yet this conclusion derives a profound grace from the extremity of its pessimism. Explaining the cosmos to his drunks, Valuska pleads, “All I ask is that you step with me into the bottomlessness”, and that is essentially Tarr’s invitation to the viewer. The enigmatic harmonic preoccupations alluded to in the title suggest that this film rich in movement, low on dialogue aspires, as the old phrase has it, to the condition of music. But Tarr’s true achievement is to attain the condition of silence, and of bottomless, awesomely inscrutable nightmare.”

Online articles mention 39 shots, so one of us has mis-counted.

Béla Tarr: “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. I have to tell you I absolutely hate the movies that I can watch at the theatres. They are like comics. They always tell the same stories. We don’t like these stories because for us every story is always the same old story from the Old Testament. After the Old Testament we have no new stories.”

Interviewer: “I just think there is a trend in world cinema towards this sort of existential terror and chaos.” Tarr, being awesomely elusive: “No, I just wanted to make a movie about this guy who is walking up and down the village and has seen this whale.”

“If you want to make a colour movie, and you go out onto the street, and you want to create the right atmosphere, you must paint the whole street, because every house is red, blue, green and so on. And you have no colours, you just have some colour chaos. For me it’s a kind of naturalism, the colour movie. With black and white you can keep it more stylistic, you can keep more of a distance between the film and reality which is important.”

same 2001 interview: “Do you know Georges Simenon? After the New York Film Festival one American producer called us. He wants to work with us. And he sent us a script which is full of shit and we said no, no, no. And afterwards he had another idea which we also said no to. And finally we proposed to him this short story by Simenon. The title is L’homme De Londres (The Man from London). And now we are working on this project. The script is ready. And this American producer founded this European company in Denmark and he moved from New York to Copenhagen. And we will start this project now which I hope we can complete.”

“You know the final cut took just half a day!”

I’ll probably remember the feeling of Satantango, the length of it, the way it moves and the way it looks, a lot longer than I’ll remember the plot and characters. So here:

The money from the harvest has come in. Mr. Schmidt is planning to run off with Mr. Kraner and their wives instead of splitting fairly eight ways. Futaki, sleeping with Mrs. Schmidt, finds out and wants in. The doctor watches all this from his room getting drunk on fruit brandy. But the news is that Irimias and Petrina, long thought dead, are approaching town.

At the bar, Mr. and Mrs. Halics frolic with the innkeeper and a talkative Kelemen (“Irimias hugged me and the waitresses jumped like grasshoppers and I was plodding and plodding and plodding”) while the Doctor fails to make the long walk in the cold rain to get more brandy, the town prostitutes have no customers, and a young neglected girl kills her cat then herself.

Irimias shows up at the funeral and rebukes everyone, tells them he will help them start a new life with meaning and honor if they give up all their cash. They abandon the town and head for a crumbling manor, but Irimias shows up soon and says the time is not yet right, that they must scatter and live quietly until attitudes shift enough that they can begin this new life. Irimias fiddles around trying to get lots of gunpowder, finally submits some kind of report to the police captain informing on the former townsfolk, whom he clearly detests. The doctor, alone at home after a hospital visit, boards up his windows.

Simply amazing to sit in a dark theater for eight hours, surrounded by this movie. Time expands and contracts, bends and warps, loops back upon itself. The black-and-white cinematography, the scattered diehard audience, the closeness to the screen, the jitters and scratches and cuts in the film, the swing between almost inaudible dialogue and ear-splitting bell-ringing, the middle-of-the-night drive home from Nashville… the most perfectly realized cinema experience I’ve had for years. A true cinephile/cult film. Seeing it at home on video over the course of a few nights was to study the movie, to follows the story and see what the movie might look and sound like… it was a preview. Seeing it in Nashville is to be part of something, to feel like there’s a point to cinema besides my own living-room amusement. The movie gives hope, if not to the dismal and defeated small-town Hungarian people, then at least to me.