IFFK 2022: An auteur who steals actors’ emotions and presence for his films

Hungarian Bela Tarr, who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 27th IFFK, terms himself an autocrat who has scant regard for the script which is just ‘a piece of paper and some words.’ He made his last film in 2012 and terms the decision final.

December 15, 2022 07:10 pm | Updated 07:10 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Bela Tarr

Bela Tarr | Photo Credit: S.R. Praveen

Bela Tarr the person comes across as a starkly different being from the image conveyed by his deeply contemplative and philosophical works. Here is a straight-talking auteur who uses his words as quick stabs or unkind cuts, the kind of which are so few in his films. Yet, one can easily connect the philosophy of cinema that he puts into words to what he portrays on screen.

This is what he is, take it or leave it, as he repeats more than once. The Hungarian filmmaker, who is at the 27th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, spoke to The Hindu on Thursday on his filmmaking process.

One would imagine the young Tarr to be a kid who was drowned amid books and movies in his room, but he had begun experiencing the life outside, something which he says has fed into his films.

“I was a kind of street kid with my friends we did lot of stupid things and we enjoyed it. I was never the kind of kid who sat in the room. I was 16 when I did my first shooting stuff. I got an 8 mm camera from my father as a birthday present. I was thinking the camera is a tool and can use it to show that things I want to, but I never believed that it was an end in itself,” says Tarr.

For three years, he had a working class life, in a ship factory, but he says that life did not specifically influence his cinema. Rather, every experience in his life came together in his works.

“My influence is not from any other filmmaker, because every filmmaker is different and belongs to different worlds and cultures. All my influences are from life. Of course, I have a social sensibility, but I never made a story about people from a different world than mine. For me, the main subject has always been human dignity,” he says.

The timeless quality of his films, be it Satantango or The Turin Horse, it seems, comes from a conscious set of choices, ranging from the thought process to his shooting location.

“I don’t like it when a film is directly connecting to the age it is made in, because if you want to say something which is universal, you cannot allow the people connecting to the concrete time,” says Tarr.

Editing in his cinema happens during the take, and not on the editing table. His partner Agnes Hranitzky is constantly on the sets, to make the editing process a part of the shooting. “She is a very creative person and works all the time in the set, as part of the production. She sits and watches the scenes on the monitor and tells immediately what she wants. I mean, we have editing, just that we don’t do it in the normal way,” he says.

Godard’s words

Earlier, during the Aravindan memorial lecture, which was structured as a conversation with film critic C.S. Venkiteswaran, he said he was following what French master Godard once told him: “A real director edits movie in the camera”.

“I was the only stupid guy who believed him, because afterwards he too made millions of cuts. If I cut a scene, I am breaking the tension. If I am just shooting very fluently, the tension will be building up. In the long take, you begin to feel it after a point. The actors and the crew members will be thinking the same thing. When the scene is finished, I sometimes keep the camera rolling. Then the actors have to turn back to their personality. Sometimes we get the best things after the scene is done, because we can get special emotions and honest movements. This is just a different way of filmmaking. Take it or leave it,” says Tarr.

He calls himself a “horrible autocrat”, who does the “really dirty job” of a hunter who wants to steal the emotions and presence of his actors, to extract their real personality for his cinema.

‘Do not act, just be’

“Sorry to all the scriptwriters, I hate the script, because it is just a piece of paper and some words, which is a different language than the film. The script is good for the banks and for the money, but it is useless in the set. You have to go closer to life, to people. I just have some cards with words, which I put up on the wall and I see immediately the structure of the film. If your actor has similar personality as your character, your work is almost done, because you can tell them ‘Don’t act, just be’. In my cinema, camera movements are very strict, but actors are free. Everything is composed. Before the shooting, I know the whole movie from the first frame to the last. I know what I want and I do not stop until I don’t get that. I am really horrible, a real autocrat,” he says.

Before he made his ninth film The Turin Horse in 2012, he had announced that it will be his last film. He says everybody, including the whole crew and the actors knew that it would be the last film he would make, as he had made an announcement earlier. Since then, he has been teaching cinema, and also tried his hands at art installations, bringing together different media. However, to a question on whether he would ever rethink his decision, he replies with a curt “Won’t change. It’s done!”

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