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The Cinema of Béla Tarr

The Cinema of Béla Tarr: The Circle Closes

András Bálint Kovács
Series: Directors' Cuts
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Béla Tarr
    Book Description:

    The Cinema of Béla Tarr is a critical analysis of the work of Hungary's most prominent and internationally best known film director, written by a scholar who has followed Bela Tarr's career through a close personal and professional relationship for more than twenty-five years. András Bálint Kovács traces the development of Tarr's themes, characters, and style, showing that almost all of his major stylistic and narrative innovations were already present in his early films and that through a conscious and meticulous recombination of and experimentation with these elements, Tarr arrived at his unique style. The significance of these films is that, beyond their aesthetic and historical value, they provide the most powerful vision of an entire region and its historical situation. Tarr's films express, in their universalistic language, the shared feelings of millions of Eastern Europeans.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85037-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book is a critical analysis of the work of Hungary’s most prominent and internationally best-known film director, Béla Tarr. Anyone who is acquainted with his work will see immediately the consistency with which Tarr develops his themes, characters and style throughout his career. His films are like variations on a number of basic themes and formal motifs where the themes themselves become intertwined, or absorbed, in one another. We can best approach his films by learning how they relate to each other, how they vary these elements. As far as I can see, Tarr’s films are the result of...

  5. CHAPTER ONE The Persona
    (pp. 7-20)

    Because this chapter is about Béla Tarr as a person, I will not refrain from evoking a personal memory. The first time I met with Tarr was in 1979, at a screening of Ermanno Olmi’s The Post. The screening was organised by filmmakers, Béla Tarr among them, who not much later organised their own filmmaking studio, called Társulás. Their goal was to find young film critics who were receptive to supporting their particular goals in creating documentary-style fiction films. As we left the screening room and walked toward some club in which we would discuss the film, Béla started to...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Style in the Early Years
    (pp. 21-46)

    On first sight Tarr’s oeuvre may be easily divided into two very different stylistic periods: the first running from Family Nest to The Prefab People (1977–82) and the second running from Damnation to The Turin Horse (1988–2011). In between, there is a ‘transitional’ work, Almanac of Fall, which carries important stylistic features of both periods, but could not be said to belong to either of them really. What I would like to draw attention to here is first of all, of course, the differences, but then also, and most importantly, the continuity and the evolution between the two...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Tarr Style
    (pp. 47-71)

    Tarr was given the manuscript of a young Hungarian writer, László Krasznahorkai, in early 1985 by literary critic Péter Balassa, who thought that this novel could be suitable material for a Tarr film. It was Krasznahorkai’s Satantango, his first novel to be published. Krasznahorkai was a relatively unknown author at that time (he is only one year older than Tarr), having published only some short stories in literary journals. By the time Satantango came out later in the year, Tarr had already agreed with Krasznahorkai to make a film of his book.

    To make a literary adaptation, especially of a...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Tarr Style in Evolution
    (pp. 72-98)

    In the films subsequent to Damnation the basics of the Tarr style do not change, but a certain evolution can be detected in several details. This chapter will discuss this evolutionary process.

    The constants are rather obvious. All the films are black and white. Average shot length (ASL) does not go under two minutes, for any of the films, but in two cases it increases by 84 per cent as compared to Damnation. The environment is characterised always by some combination of desolation and poverty (in Satantango and Werckmeister Harmonies the same East European environment as in Damnation; in The...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Narration in the Tarr Films
    (pp. 99-153)

    The narrative features of the Tarr films can be assessed really only in relation to the themes they are utilised to express. The stories of the Tarr films are focused on only one basic theme, and each film’s story offers a variation on this theme. The basic theme of all of Tarr’s films is entrapment. Each film shows a situation which the characters are incapable of getting out of, however hard they try. They remain hopeless captives in their miserable situation, whether or not they are responsible for their own suffering. Different types of situations can be discerned in different...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Characters
    (pp. 154-170)

    In the previous chapter I came to the conclusion that the radicalism in The Turin Horse is mainly due to the way Tarr handles his characters, which is different in many respects from his other films. This chapter deals with the last important aspect of the films of Béla Tarr, his characters. The reason why it is possible to discuss this aspect separately is that Tarr’s characters belong to the general conception of his films rather than to the individual stories. Obviously, each story has its particular characters, yet they represent identifiable types and in many ways they are very...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 171-176)

    In about 1986 Béla Tarr jokingly remarked on his festival participation: ‘Since I have become Béla Tarr, I am treated decently on international festivals.’ In Hungarian the first name and the family name are in reverse order as compared to other European languages; that is, the family name comes first and the given name comes second. So, when Hungarians address a foreigner they usually reverse the order of their names, so that the foreigner knows which is which. When we see or hear a Hungarian name written or uttered in reverse order, we know that the person evoked either is...

    (pp. 177-179)
    (pp. 180-181)
    (pp. 182-184)