WHO is he?
A widely celebrated Hungarian filmmaker who has made just over a dozen films spanning 32 years, but each of immense interest to film lovers. Tarr made his first feature Family Nest in 1977 when he was just 22, even before he joined the Hungarian School of Arts, and his last film The Turin Horse in 2011 before retiring from filmmaking. Between these two lies one of the most remarkable filmographies of the past three decades.
WHAT are his films about?
Tarr started his career making socially charged cinema vérité films based in Budapest that dealt with urgent themes such as the shrinking urban spaces and housing problems of the working class. With Almanac of Fall (1985), he took a major thematic break and his cinema thenceforth became increasingly abstract and metaphysical. These later films are also pointedly political, though, primarily hinging on the historic fall of communism across Europe and the communal disintegration it brought about.
Harsh monochrome cinematography, extremely lengthy takes running for several minutes, eerie and loopy musical soundtracks heavy on accordion, use of barren landscapes often torn down by storm and rain, a preference for dilapidated interior sets, hypnotic, complex tracking shots helmed by regular cinematographer Fred Keleman, abstinence from explanatory dialogue or narrative expositions and a non-expressive, deadpan style of acting are some of the stylistic hallmarks of Béla Tarr’s cinema.
WHY is he of interest?
Unanimously hailed by critics as one of the most important living filmmakers, Tarr has carved an unimpeachable place for himself in the higher echelons of art cinema. Taking a radical break from both the stale paradigms of mainstream cinema as well as the shorthand of safe arthouse cinema, Tarr’s work imagines a cinema that is neither heavy on montage nor dependent on photographic composition or theatrical staging. It is artistically ambitious and genuinely unconventional.
WHERE to discover him?
The quintessential Béla Tarr film, the seven-hour long Satantango (1994) is one of the greatest films ever made. Centring on the disbanding of a community farm following a national political collapse and the group’s eventual submission to a smooth-talking false prophet, the film has the power to single-handedly reconfigure one’s ideas about the medium. Baffling and mesmerising, it opens new avenues for filmmakers to explore the two most important parameters that structure the medium: space and time.