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The World According to Tarr By Andrs Blint Kovcs

The holistic vision and world view of great artists often easily confuses the beholder. In order for us to accept the way great art sees the world in its entirety, we must surrender the part of our own limited life experience with which such an approach does not tally. For the world can hardly be described with one compound sentence. We usually find that it is not things which force us to categorize them into a uniform system, but rather we are the ones who try to rob things of their colourful, ambiguous and accidental nature, in order to be able to name them. Minor artists, who say but little of the world, think small and are therefore truer to the ultimate diversity inherent in everything. Great artists, on the other hand, force their will and vision on the entire world. But it is just this arrogance which helps the recipient to discover in everything that, which a viewer stuck in diversity and everydayness cannot see. Every single thing can be approached in an infinite number of ways. From this infinity all we see is that we cannot unify it, for we are too small for it. The simplest and most useful approach for us is to categorise things according to their function. What we achieve this way, is that a single thing suddenly seems interpretable but from a few viewpoints, its other aspects seeming unimportant. We tend not to notice what is of no use to us. Great artists, however, do not think functionally and do not categorise things based on their usefulness. Therefore it is through the non-functional approach, that they make us see the world the way we have never seen it. All great artists exaggerate, still it is not exaggeration which makes an artist great. What makes the artist great is that through this exaggeration and enlargement we still recognise the world a stunning experience. So exaggeration is no exaggeration after all. This is the paradox of great art. How and when this experience is born, we cannot say, nor is it sure, that it reaches all beholders. (Let us not forget, that it is an exaggeration we are talking about). Great art is the secret of the given era, as well, not only of form. So it is possible that in a particular era no great art is born. Not for the lack of talent, but due perhaps to little faith, tiredness or lack of susceptibility to universal vision in the given period.

Tarrs road to great art is an example of how someone can rise above the unexaggerated correctness of small masters submerged in diversity. Tarr saw the darkness of social reality, which for correct functionality was hopelessly impermeable. He started making films at the age of twenty-two in the very realistic and functional style of the so-called documentary1

feature films, which infused politics into cinema vrit and deprived it of the reflexive nature Jean Rouch had added to it. When he made Family Nest, he was immediately accepted as a member of the film-makers group, whose work was based on this style and who called themselves the Budapest School. Among them Tarr counted as the most original talent. No one noticed back then, at the end of the seventies, that Tarr had in fact little interest in documentary realism. One of the exciting features of the film was that it followed a similar structural pattern to that of Fassbinder seven or eight years earlier, although Tarr did not see any Fassbinder film until 1982. This shows how filmmakers with similar concerns can find similar solutions at different parts of the world with no direct influence on each other. The way both directors described the environment was naturalistic and theatrical at the same time, their characters were banal, but their impulses, passions, selfishness and suffering made them extraordinary. Both of them condensed the dramatic nature of naturalistic situations to the point of unreality. Tarr had an eye for the same thing as Fassbinder: to see the spiritual source of the universal drama in the utterly banal figures determined by their environment. He was a theatrical talent, as well, just like Fassbinder, but he never worked in the theatre. However, his thesis film was Shakespeares Macbeth. Just like for Fassbinder, for Tarr the precision of the actors acting became increasingly important with time. They both used actors in a similar way. They could only work with actors who had their own, independent personality and could be inspired to bring the deepest features of their character to the surface. They both made actors of amateurs, since for both, the authenticity of the human expression was the most important. As Tarr put it: What we never trust is that we can make actors play the scene. Therefore we want it to happen really. We have to select actors, who, if put together in a situation, really behave the way they would in real life. So we can never trust ourselves to direct a film. We cannot make a film, I cannot even direct a scene, all I can do is put everything in a pot, and perhaps something will come out of it. When in Maria Brauns Marriage Schygulla hits the black man on the head, then looks at her husband this is a scene Fassbinder could never have directed. For this scene to happen, they all had to be on the same wavelength of communication, which gave birth to this scene. Directing is not a profession, it is rather a kind of sensitivity. From other film-makers work I like to watch those by Godard, Cassavettes or Fassbinder - where the film has personality. When I was teaching in Berlin, this is what I always explained to the kids: you dont just write a film-script, then the dialogue and then select the actors from a photo-album. I suggest the following: you do not write a script, you do not write a dialogue. When you have a synopsis, the next step is to see, if you have the characters and the sites. And when you have all of that, you need to adjust
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the script anyway. So what they learned from me was to look for actors and sites as soon as they have a synopsis, and that only after having found them, should they start writing the dialogues and the scenes, knowing whether the camera will fit in the space and who will play the characters. (Unpublished personal communication)

The big difference between Tarr and the German master is that Tarr almost never lost his interest in a realistic and social description of the environment, except perhaps for two films; one of which for him was the beginning of a new artistic period, Almanac of Fall, and the second his most recent film, maybe the start of another new beginning. For him the actor and the scenery were part of the same universe and remained so. He inherited this way of seeing through Antonioni from Jancs, from whom he also inherited the sensitivity for ritual movement an element he elaborated in his later films more. The Prefab People was his first film where one could sense Fassbinders structure clearly. He made a film of a bare and increasingly hellish everyday life of a young couple in its most complete banality. Contrary to his usual method though, he used professional actors, making them work the same way amateurs would back then. They had to improvise texts in the given situations. He wanted the actors to experience their roles as their own life. Perhaps it was helpful, that the two actors were husband and wife in real life.

The result was good, but little. The naturalistic and extensive description of the environment contradicted the dramatic condensation. Their world might have been relatively secluded, but the eventuality of the environment and the real life situations decreased the dramatic tension all the time. So Tarr made a move towards the eclectic nature, the emotional heat and preference of the artificial of the post-modern taste, which bloomed in the fine arts and European film at the beginning of the eighties. Tarr in Almanac of Fall (1985) created a perfectly artificial and closed world, emphatically different from naturalistic reality and placed his drama, prone to physical and spiritual sadism, in this context. Tarrs technique here was the same as in his previous film: he put the actors in situations and makes them improvise, so that their impulses and emotions surface from the depths of their souls. This artificial pseudo-world was necessary, so that nothing distracts attention from human cruelty, pettiness and evil, which spread everywhere and consume everything. It was clear at this point, that it is not Hungarian housing problems, political conditions or a special existential state of life Tarr wants to speak of, but the entire world. He saw the world surrounding him, as did Fassbinder, as best summarised by falsehood, cheating, intrigue and hopeless emotional
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vulnerability, as well as the fatal existential void following from all of these. Representation of financial distress is not a necessary property of this world-view, financial vulnerability, however, seemed to be the best context to depict moral degradation of humankind. What made Tarrs first film especially powerful was the way he simultaneously presented social and spiritual distress and vulnerability as being utterly intertwined. He placed his story in a social layer, where Hungarian people had the same personal experience in their real lives. Except for Outsider (1980), all his early films are based on the same dramatic situation: people confined in a small space make life hell for each other. But the fact that these people had to share one room and had nowhere to flee from each other is not what made them so horrid. On the contrary: being confined together was so unbearable, because they were such horrid types to begin with. They were all the guilty and victims at the same time.

In Almanac of Fall, however, Tarr was only interested in the mere spiritual mechanism of the same situation. Being confined or financially vulnerable are both conditions which lack all concrete social motives, all figures are more moral than social examples of desperate parasitism. Here Tarr was already looking for a world that can be generalised, one which can lend an authentic background to the spiritual drama with the same elementary power as did the concrete misery of housing in his first film. Social realism, however, was not fit for this purpose. In the middle of the eighties all concrete social phenomena lost their authenticity and meaning. This very thing became the essence of Tarrs world view: nothing is what it seems, including the social source of human suffering. Underneath all of this lies a fraud, not to be revealed. Therefore the world of objects cannot be real either, in the naturalistic sense of the word. Tarr tried to create the semblance of reality in an intensified way, so that the spectator cannot escape the feeling, that it is his/her own world, so that he/she would see exaggeration as natural and recognise what he/she has failed to see, to which he/she has always closed his/her eyes. So that the spectator would see his/her own world as being just as suffocating as the human relationships in it. Almanac of Fall was therefore a starting point rather, an intermediary stop between the functional genre, documentary-feature films and a worldforming vision. This film sought the possibility to generalise, but in a mannerist way, feeling for decorative abstraction. It was easy here to flee from a vision embracing the whole world, for he did not really create a world, only a theatre set.

No matter how different Almanac of Fall was from his earlier films, the road leading to it was no less difficult or painful than the one leading on. He had to learn the form, which turns the
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authenticity of superficial description into something universal. After Almanac of Fall it was not possible to see how Tarr would find a way forwards. Professional isolation, the perfectly hopeless political stagnation between 1985 and 1987 and the complete moral decadence in the country, the deaths of Fassbinder, Gbor Bdy, Mikls Erdly and Tarkovsky added to his bad mood and depression. Although we had known each other before, it was in this period that we became close friends. We had long conversations about the death of modern film and its possible successor. Our discussions always returned to the way Tarkovsky and Fassbinder used the travelling; we compared their long takes and whether or not there is a new way - not yet tried by film-makers - to play with time. This was not just an empty helplessness. He was searching for the solution to a very concrete problem. How can one create the feeling of reality in an artificially created pseudo world? It was clear for him that continuous composition and time have to play a key role in this. But what is a camera-movement like, what is the time like that makes the image universal, while the world remains very concrete? In other words: can one use Tarkovskys time-management in a non-natural world, which was not artistically formed? It was clear to see that Tarr was looking for a style rather than a theme or story. He knew he had to surpass the abstract set stylisation of Almanac of Fall, and return to a seemingly realistic portrayal of the world, while keeping the feeling of universality and the speech of the entire world and not letting it fall back to the eventuality of social problems. It was at this time that he read Lszl Krasznahorkais Satantango and met the author. It was clear right away that this novel was meant to solve Tarrs problem. Human situations in it are very similar to those in Tarrs earlier films. He found the social environment (worn down characters on the verge of misery and corruption) very close to his heart, while the structure of the book is based on a time game with composition. It seemed Krasznahorkai answered Tarrs as to the problem of how to treat time. The answer was: eternal return. Monotonous repetition, infinitely slow and ruthless seclusion can raise even the most earthly, most worn down, most extreme and most unique-seeming world from its uniqueness, concrete historical and social facts and create a whole world of it. And so it becomes possible for Tarr to bring back his naturalistic world-portrayal, while standing on the borderline between artificiality and reality. This was the most important characteristic of the human world portrayed by him. Krasznahorkai saw in the world the same thing as Tarr did: endless destruction and misery disguised as redemption and elevation. In his early films Tarr deduced this process to a concrete social environment or to the evil nature of the human soul; but the fact that cheating is inherent in the world itself, in its pseudo nature has never become a central theme, except for Almanac of Fall, where the emphatically artificial set alluded to it. Tarr felt that now he
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could cross the Rubicon. Without leaving his realistic portrayal of the world too far behind, without having to give up portraying real misery and ruins, he could now show that all this misery and ruins are the reality of a pseudo-world, a result of cheating and conning. The way the world is made makes people believe in redemption and love. Trust is a way to redemption. And when people believe this and therefore leave themselves unguarded for a moment, this pseudo-world strikes down mercilessly and takes form them the little they still have. The misery of the world is not a result of the financial or the political situation, but an abuse of the last remnants of faith in humanity. Krasznahorkais novel was special in that it depicted the process of going down rather then the static condition of misery. Not a disrupted world, but continuous disruption. This became the common denominator between Krasznahorkai and Tarr. The monotonous slowness is the time of this ruthless crash, the form of inevitability is the eternal revolution, which became the basic element of the three great Tarr-films made with Krasznahorkai.

Although the script was complete, no studio was ready to venture into Satantango. Tarr then turned to another project of his, and wrote with Krasznahorkai Damnation, the atmosphere, setting and human figures of which suited the world of Satantango perfectly. Even the story would have fit in the novel. Human relationships in this film are just as ruthlessly instrumental as in earlier and later Tarr-films. Everyone cheats on everyone, they abuse each other, while all characters dream and talk of something great and noble. They do not lie to themselves, only to each other, they really believe in redemption, but they always give a reason why they abuse and cheat others. They genuinely believe that they will succeed in becoming decent people in spite of the fact that circumstances now require another man to be trampled upon. And since they all reason and act accordingly, the result is the eternal revolution of physical and spiritual destruction. He who began on the bottom, finishes even lower, he who started high, merely seems to win.

The film introduced novelties in three important elements as compared to earlier Tarr-films. Most significant was the treatment of dialogue. As mentioned earlier, a common stylistic characteristic of all earlier films was textual improvisation, even in films made with professional actors. In this new film, however, not only were the actors dialogues written, they were also very poetic, abstract and in sharp contrast with the naturalistic shabbiness of the environment. As in Almanac of Fall, the mannerism of the set created tension with the
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naturalism of the actors. Here it was the other way around: in a run-down world, run-down and burned out people talk in a poetic and philosophical language.

A decisive effect-element of the films form a second novelty was much more spectacular. The imagery and set-use of the film was different from all earlier traditions. Tarr created a world, which makes a realistic impression in all details, but is essentially non-existent and completely set-like. Tarr and Pauer had travelled through the whole country to find all the real sites for the scenes, which have the atmosphere of that last moment before complete destruction, when one can still feel that they were meant to serve a purpose, whose ruined memory they now document. Gyula Pauer, the set designer and one of the actors of the film talks about his work: We wandered through all the miners villages and towns in the country. We were looking for an industrial environment, which bore the clear and irrefutable imprint of slow destruction and decomposition. What was once meant for dynamic growth and multiplication, what still bore the sign of a nicer and richer future, but was now in an infinitely run-down state, showed only the death of such old illusions. We found numerous such places all over the country. Decades-old dreams of triumphant industrialisation are now slums, where people can barely survive. We have been to miners villages where only pensioners live now forty-fifty-year old people - , who were pensioned off, since the mine was closed down and there is no other work. These people just sit around in the pub all day. We have been to places where the tubs only brought coal-dust, out of which they built a huge spoil-bank. A couple of hundred people are building a mountain just to have something to do. One can see in the architecture of these places that they were meant for a certain way of life, and now they are utterly unsuited for any other. In booths made of bulking paper, fibre and tin plates we find townspeople raising pigs and poultry in such incredibly worn-down houses, where seeing the gate and the staircase one would think life had ceased long ago, and people have moved out. We have also been to restaurants, where now only beer is served, since the National Health Organisation closed down the kitchen and forbade drinks to be served, and where there are no glasses for the beer; people drink from the bottle by three-legged tables covered with appallingly dirty tablecloths. This restaurant was once probably a place people were proud of. Above the entrance built in the now memorial Stalin baroque with a classicist portal and a fake-marble row of pillars, decorated with stucco on the ceiling, with an illuminated small model trolley above that moved around on the ceiling. The wall may have once been decorated with fantastic mirrors, brackets and chandeliers. Of all this we now see only the broken remains, as if we had trusted naughty children with a nice flat only to find it
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wrecked on our return. Our most stunning experience everywhere was that this was the result of lives spent in back breaking toil and not by idleness. At the same time our purpose with finding these places was not to present a diagnosis of certain devastated areas of the country. The film does not allude specifically to the time and the place. We deliberately avoided showing any signs of actual politics and economics in regard to this environment. We created the sites in such a way that they reflect the endgame of a world-era, the state of the last moment before final disappearance. The sites are real, but we shot the film in very different locations. Sometimes we only recorded a street scene; sometimes only a house-wall and we even have a house in the film with an outside in Budapest, an inside in Ajka and a next-door shop in Pcs. So the films world consists of real elements, which, however, do not create a real space. (source: Andrs Blint Kovcs: Monolgok a Krhozatrl. In: Filmvilg, 1988/2. 18.) This is how the set and landscape were created, this is why they seemed naturalistically real, while from the variation of the same atmosphere made them unrealistically hopeless and claustrophobically depressing. The set and the locations were but one element of the visual imagery. The other the third novelty was the special camera treatment and picture composition. For Tarr this was the biggest problem. He had an exact image of what composition he needed; however creating this seemed very difficult. He wanted the camera to move continuously, he wanted certain compositions to fade into each other, while most of the scenes were narrow, closed insides. What is more they were intended to keep a semi-dark and depressive atmosphere everywhere and to allow only those elements of the real sites to become part of the picture, which fit this mood. The movement of the camera had to be descriptive from the outside, while having to draw the audience into the films world. What failed from the story had to be shown visually. It was in the images they had to show, where this world comes from and where it is leading. Continuous movement was neither needed for metaphysical abstraction like with Tarkovsky, nor for an abstract choreography of human relationships like with Jancs, though both artists were close to him. But Tarr did not want any metaphysical dimension the world of gods or history - to appear in his images, still he had to surpass the concrete facts of naturalistic portrayal. If we want to briefly summarise, why he needed long takes and continuous camera-movement, we can say he wanted to depict a cyclical process returning to itself, while having to create the illusion of moving forward. This is what the choreography of the camera-movement had to express. In order to create this effect, he needed a cinematographer, who was supposed to be capable of making this style his own. Instead of an experienced cinematographer he chose a young man, Gbor Medvigy, for
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whom this became a first film. Their collaboration can be described as a creative struggle, but the results speak for themselves in Damnation as well as in their next film, Satantango.

To help create the dichotomy of continuous forward movement and an eternal return, one more element was used: continuous rain. Before Tarr only Tarkovsky had used the rain motive with such consistency, but with an entirely different meaning. Rain for Tarkovsky was absolutely positive, while for Tarr it is absolutely negative. From the possible connotations of the rain Tarr selected monotony and slow, unnoticeable, but unstoppable destruction and decomposition.

Damnation drew the attention of a wider international art film audience to Tarr, primarily in Germany, Holland and the United States. The film featured at several festivals, was nominated for the Felix-award, Tarr was invited to lecture at the Berlin Film Academy and was delegated to the European Film Academy. In the meantime the system in Hungary changed, the film profession almost collapsed financially and film-making decreased significantly (though not as drastically as in the Czech Republic), while many new faces appeared in film production, for whom Damnation meant the overture of a new era. This was the first black-and-white film in Hungary for a long time, following which, however, blackand-white suddenly became very fashionable in Hungary. In a short time a whole group of first-time-film-makers started a career in black-and-white: Ildik Enyedi My 20th Century, (1988), rpd Sopsits Shooting Gallery (1990), Gyrgy Fehr Dusk (1991), Attila Janisch Shadow on the Snow (1992), Ildik Szab Child Murders (1993), Jnos Szsz Woyzeck (1994). It was as if Tarr had torn down a dam and showed them how to swim against the current.

International fame made it possible for Tarr to start working on his original plan, Satantango. This film could only be made in co-production, for according to the original idea it is really five films. The extraordinary length of the film was no self-contained game, only a consistent carrying out of the formal principles laid down in Damnation and a consistent adaptation of the novels main compositional principle. The undertaking was grand, perhaps the greatest gamble in film history. Tarr wanted to make a film, which was practically unsuitable for distribution, for the film does not consist of parts which one can see days or weeks apart, like Fassbinders Berlin, Alexanderplatz for example, but a single huge composition, which one has to see in one. One has to sit in the cinema for more than eight hours (with intervals). What
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is more, this length is not justified by a long or complicated story. What happens in the film is not more than what could be told in ninety minutes. So the fact that Tarr found a producer tells of the latters real bravery.

There was something in this plan, though, which meant more than a unique bravado of form. This film meant a provocation and a challenge for the entire contemporary film culture. By this time the hegemony of American films in Europe had become overwhelming. Not only their number, but also because a certain Americanisation had appeared in European film: readily comprehensible, emotional stories, impetuous narration, colourful and grand imagery, fast rhythm. It seemed reason enough for concern, that the kind of film-making once characteristic of the new waves and the whole modern film art was completely isolated by the nineties. Another response to the same phenomenon was the manifesto of the Dogma-group and the series of films that followed. They also wanted to return to personal expression, to denying the conventions of portrayal dictated by commercial profit and to using a film language, which seeks new roads.

At the beginning of the nineties it was imminent, that European film-makers forget all about their past and merely try to survive in the battle with Hollywood, by becoming Hollywoodlike themselves. Tarrs gesture however was the most radical challenge for the cinema-goers in favour of European culture. It was as if through shock-therapy he was trying to lead them back to the recognition of what real film art is about. Black-and-white was the answer to the over-coloured mayhem of todays visual culture. The style of long takes and no cuts was a response to the raging pace sieving through from commercials and video-clips. Seven and a half hours were a response to todays film style of superficial, quick reactions and subliminal effects. The story of little plot was a response to the action-packed, aggressive plot-structures. Satantango in all its elements is an extreme counterpoint of the development started in the film culture of the nineties and prevalent today.

This film was a piece of great art, represented by the nineties by only few: Abbas Kierostami and perhaps Takeshi Kitano with a few films. The great ones were at one time more numerous, but by today films trying to cover the world in its entirety are very rare, if not already extinct. It is not the task of this text to find the reasons behind this phenomenon, but it must be said that since roughly the beginning of the seventies it is not simply the battle of the commercial and artistic film we are facing. In the fifties and the sixties another film industry
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was born in Europe alongside the commercial film industry, what we call the art film industry. A reaction to this were the so-called avant-garde or elitist art films (called authors films in the US and art et essai in France), represented by Godard against Truffaut, by Jancs against Szab, by Tarkovsky against Michalkov, by Straub and Huillet against Wenders. The difference is not primarily aesthetic, it stands rather in the approach to new form and conformism. With Satantango Bla Tarr voted on the group and kind of art film he wanted to belong to. He chose the more marginal, more elitist, less conformist kind, devoted ultimately to the personal, the kind, which sees its main task as finding new ways. Tarr was not the only one in Hungary who took this approach. Much sooner, from the middle of the seventies his older colleagues, who had started their career at the same time, Gbor Bdy and Andrs Jeles followed his lead. And such artists keep turning up in contemporary Hungarian film, as well. But since Mikls Jancs, Tarr was the first who managed to raise Hungarian film to the top level of international avant-garde. The great question of todays film is whether or not this branch of art films, which go against all mainstream trends, can survive in the world.

All of this, though, is only a background. Satantango is not only a gesture. In Satantango Tarr used the principles founded and elaborated in Damnation in a much easier and more chiselled manner. The basic set-elements remained the same, only the small-town scene changed into a perfectly indefinable village-like settlement, which is talked of as the block in the film. The driving force of the story here is the same as in most Tarr-films: faith, appearance and cheating. In the portrayal of this world, however, there is no stylisation at all. Tarr did need the set to allude to the background of the story as directly as in Damnation. This world, on the other hand, does not promise anything good, it just keeps the people living in it captive, while they desperately try to get out. This story is much more straightforward and direct than any of the earlier ones. It is essentially a criminal story about the tricks of two con-men, embezzlers and an informant, who cheat the inhabitants of the village out of their last hard earned meagre savings in the vilest possible way, making them believe that they will help them to a better life. The villagers see the Messiah in the two crooks; they follow them blindly and even lose their homes. While the story is perfectly fictional and structured step by step, the characters are incredibly fine and authentic. Tarr used all the life experience he had from his period of direct filming. He created such an elaborate scale of misery that it can be a model of the whole of society. All intellectual and spiritual types are to be found in this microenvironment, all variations of human and existential ruin. The doctor, the policeman, the cleaning-woman, the pensioner, the worker, the inn-keeper, the whore, the poet and the
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philosopher create an entire world, they draw the whole scale of human relationships, emotions, desires and beliefs, while converging monotonously to the same place. Tarr creates a dichotomy of the real and the unreal now - for the first time not through different motifs (set, dialogue), but in the same milieu, that of the characters. Therefore he does not need an over-stylised set or an over poetic dialogue. Where the latter still appears, it is strictly functional. Irimias, the con-man, is successful with those living in perfect uncertainty, because his angelic face, his earnestness and prophetic speeches find the last remnants of faith and trust in them. Irimias is a real false prophet. He sucks the blood of the most desperate, most defenceless people, who still have something to lose, who still have dreams and who therefore are happy to grab any chance, which promises a better life. This character is so diabolical, while all his appeal is to his own suggestive power. He does not try to convince people, but with his appearance, his secretiveness, his abstract, philosophical and poetic speeches - makes them believe that he is from another world. People trust him, because they believe him to be the messenger of another world. His secret is the same as that of many real and false prophets: the other world. And an evil irony of fate is that in a way they are right to believe him. Irimias is a petty criminal and police informant on parole. He has really been sent from up above, from the police. However, he is surreal, and that is why he can play his part. Peoples approach to him is also unrealistic and this unreality is the most important statement of the film. Mankind, even in their utter vulnerability, can always find something above their heads, which seems bigger and which they can believe in. That is how their vulnerability becomes absolutely hopeless. The more unrealistic something seems, the more realistic the danger that empty appearances can govern defenceless people of faith. The dichotomy of semblance and reality comes from one single character, Irimias. He represents the superior world as the great con. One scene in the film symbolises this clearly: the bells the characters hear tolling are not in the church, only from a cheap belfry, on the rope of which a half-wit has started pulling.

That is why it is a mistake to use the concept of metaphysics in connection with Tarrs films, though his portrayal, which resembles that of Tarkovsky on the surface, lures us to this explanation. But Tarrs statement is most clear in his film about the other world, about the domain beyond the senses, Satantango. The domain beyond the senses, the metaphysical territory is for Tarr none other than the shelter from the utter human despair, and belief in it is the final proof of human vulnerability. It is only good for people to hide their own misery
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from themselves. Tarrs and Krasznahorkais way of thinking is mostly inspired by Nietzsche. Their closed, circular time-concept is also proof of that.

All analyses of Satantango have to first account for why seven and a half hours were needed to tell this story, and what beyond the cited challenge is the reason for this improbable, slow pace and how indeed the film can still be enjoyed. In the framework of this essay it is only possible to hint at the reasons. First of all the slow monotony and circulation of time is a central topic in Krasznahorkais novel. The inevitability of fulfilling fate is what Tarr and Krasznahorkai meant to express with this slow monotony. This was no arbitrary choice on their part. One can portray the inevitability of fate in many ways, depending on what we think fate owes its power to. A sentimental melodrama, a tense tragedy, a fast-paced action movie can all become means. Tarr does not find fate dramatic. According to them it is not the result of fatal or contrived events. It is not inevitable, because something happened, whose consequences are unavoidable. Fate in their view is that of the unchanging, of the eternal return. There is no crime needed for it, nor a blow of fate. It applies to everyone, regardless of where we are in the hierarchy. Tarrs heroes may be wealthy and powerful. In his world they would receive no quarter in any case. He chooses run-down heroes, because their vulnerability is redoubled. At the end of the fifties Antonioni places his heroes in an uppermiddle-class milieu, so that no one makes the mistake of thinking estrangement can be avoided, if financial demands are met. Tarr places his characters so low to show that there are no lower depths of misery from which one could not sink even lower, for depravity is primarily not a financial question. Tarrs world is as hopeless as Antonionis, only he embraces the whole world from underneath and not from above. No one could claim that Antonionis problems are those of the rich, and no one can claim that Tarrs films represent only the misery of the poor. In Tarrs world deconstruction is slow, but unstoppable and finds its way everywhere. The question therefore is not how to stop or avoid this process, but what we do in the meantime? Tarr asks this question of the audience, but if the audience wants to understand the question, they first have to understand the fatality of time. And in order to grasp that, they have to understand that in surviving the present moment there is no excuse: time is empty. An infinite and undivided dimension, in which everything repeats itself the same way.

The other and most important motivation for Satantango being so slow and of an extraordinary time is the emptying of time-experience. Quite contrary to Tarkovsky, who uses
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slowness to build a transcendent experience, Tarr uses the same technique to rid us of the illusion of the transcendent experience. A little frivolously we could say that knowing the reflexes of the audience used to the art films search for the transcendent, Tarr needs a little more time and an even slower pace to reach his goal than Tarkovsky. Tarr empties time by creating the constant illusion that what is happening moves the plot forward. The great bravado of the film is that it manages to keep up the feeling of suspense for seven and a half hours. This could not be achieved through the plot alone. It is necessary that every object, landscape and figure create such a colourful diversity that in itself awakens curiosity. One tool for that is that most characters are played not by professional actors, but artists with very marked faces and characters: film directors, cinematographers, composers, set-designers, writers, painters. Most of Tarrs characters create the tension necessary for the audiences interest with their faces, voices and movements. One cannot know who they are, all figures are a secret. They all look unbelievably miserable in a miserable environment, still they show some fineness, some sign of intellect. They are no descendants of this world, they just got here somehow and now cannot escape. They are wretched people with a serene countenance, of whom we still believe that they might have dreams. In Damnation the past was carried by the outer and inner surfaces of buildings, here history is condensed in human faces.

Satantango is Tarrs modernist masterpiece, which - with a brave gesture not only continues, but also radicalizes the stream of modern film, which has been greatly overshadowed in contemporary film culture: the world-forming contemplation and meditation from Ozu, Antonioni, Tarkovsky and Jarmusch. In their own ways and in their own cultural contexts they all created something radical, but from a formal viewpoint it is Tarr who went the furthest and who got to an unsurpassable end. This in itself is no value judgement, but it has to be said. On this road one cannot go further, which, however, does not mean that it is a dead end. The extraordinary length and slowness was a means to tell a certain story and not an end in itself. Tarr, however, did not have to give up the essence of his style in order to return to a more traditional and downright classical form in his next film. We notice that the more normal length of Werckmeister Harmonies is combined with a greatly reduced narration compared to Satantango. It is based on one single, further simplified excerpt of another Krasznahorkai-novel The Melancholy of Resistance. In this way he kept all the stylistic features of time, meditation, monotony, slowness and movement, which made Satantango into a seven-and-half-hour long film, only used in two and a half hours of narration here.
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In the same style a significantly different film was born from the two previous ones. If we put the three pieces next to each other, we see an interesting line of development. If Damnation is the mannerist form of Tarrs style, Satantango is the classic, and Werckmeister is the romantic form. We see the world through the eyes of one chosen character, and only from his viewpoint do we see the events. Likewise The Outsider (1980) follows only one character, but in that case the direct film style does not allow the kind of emotional identification, which prevails here. It is for the first time, that Tarr portrays a figure from inside and with compassion. It is for the first time that he portrays the relation of this character to the world through emotional states, anxiety and fear, which then lead him to insanity. Slow meditation here is not a form of sensing an outside landscape; it is not the means of emptying time, but the milieu of a persons relation to the world. He portrays the process of the gathering of motifs, which finally drive Valushka crazy. Valushka is Tarrs first hero, who is in no way depraved and who does not even do as much of a bad deed as Estike in Satantango. Valushka cannot escape from being ruined, either, but this is no moral crash, rather a crash of the nerves, which is a significant difference, if we remember that the main feature of Tarrs every figure so far, has been moral weakness or spiritual pettiness. This primarily is what Werckmeister owes its romantic and melodramatic character to.

The story is naturally based on the basic elements already known from earlier films: intrigue, cheating, the final crash and the closing of the circle. But here, for the first time financial crash is much less significant. The heroes of the story live poorly in a small, threadbare urban environment, but they are not miserable and their motivations are never financial. Tarr for the first time depicts the crowd assembling on the square not with the social empathy characteristic of him, but as a terrifying, murderous mob. And what is most important, hopelessness and the feeling of no way out is related to a subjective feeling more than in any other films, therefore it is here that it is the most choking. Human destruction is not the result of the concrete meanness of specific people or a situation of confinement as in his earlier films. This process here becomes aggressive and conscious destruction. More than that, it is also linked directly to the illusion of a superior spirit. It is not the result of the empty metaphysical faith, rather its political program. This is the program of Mr. Eszter and the mob incensed by the Duke. A distorted parody of the spiritual avant-garde, spiritual and political revolution is what they are, who in the name of naturalness and instinct defy the so-called unnatural culture and civilisation. They are looking for individual ways to happiness, everyone wants to save the whole world. But redemption here equals destruction completely.
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But it is the corrupt and alcoholic authority figures who save the town from the raging destruction. They restore order, and Valushka, the postman, who took care of everyone is forced to flee. If order is where Valushka has no place and what makes Mr. Eszter to retune his piano and give up his study of the natural tonal system, then it is just as unbearable as the physical destruction which the town has escaped from. The circle is closed: there is no way to change the order built on intrigue and vile individual interests, for the only counterpoint is destruction. This is what drives Valushka crazy.

The significance of Bla Tarrs films in the 1990s beyond their stylistic and aesthetic values is that they offer the most powerful and complex vision of the historical situation in the EasternEuropean region over the last decade. His films reach but a few, still it would be hard to deny, that he speaks for hundreds of millions of ordinary European people in his universal and ruthless language. Feeling cheated and disappointed for wasting all the values of their previous lives in a matter of seconds, falling prey to petty intrigue, being led by petty, mean promise mongers, who talk of high ideals, but who follow their selfish power and financial interests. This feeling is born not only from the past, but also from the present experience, that although the set and certain characters may have changed, still the same petty fights and intrigue rule our lives, other ideologies are quoted, while the misery remains, or even deteriorates in the Soviet Union Romania or Yugoslavia. We cannot trust anyone, we cannot believe in anything, for all high ideals are but tools to abuse the helpless. We, EasternEuropeans, are the tenants of the blocks of flats in Satantango and we desperately cling to all the promises of the promise mongers, who only take our money. We are the hopeless drunkards, our leaders are the alcoholic policeman, the clever smuggler and the maffia-man inn-keeper. And we are Valushka, as well, who serves all above him with endless humility and looks the whale in the eye with terror, hoping for mother natures help. And we are the mob, too. In our helplessness we would like to break the windows of all luxury shops, in which they sell articles we can only dream of, and we would like to turn our anger against the ones even weaker and more helpless. All of this is exaggeration of course. The exaggeration of the great art.

After the international success of Satantango and Werckmeister Tarr had to carry the burden of high expectations. He has become a sort of cult figure of European high art cinema known for his taste of extreme long takes, slow narrative pace and his nearly apocalyptic vision of Eastern Europe. This image of him was only reinforced by his short film made in 2004 in the
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collective short film series Visions of Europe. The five minute long piece consists of only one single tracking shot that goes along a long line of ragged homeless people queuing for free soup. This shot is one of Tarrs favourites: very similar tracking shots can be found in Damnation and in Satantango, and even in Werckmeister, when the camera goes among the mob. Apparently Tarr has selected the shot that for him represents the most concisely his relationship to the people he films: his deep emotional identification with the deprived. That is surely a most powerful vision of Europe; not of the Europe of the rich, but the Europe of the poor.

His next and so far last film, The Man from London (2007) brings a certain change in Tarrs career. The change is similar to what had occurred with Almanac of Fall twenty two years earlier although not that radical. The concreteness of the environment has disappeared; the story does not take place in a recognizably East-European environment; the characters do not represent typical social groups, and the emphasis is entirely on their relations and inner worlds. But whereas Almanac of Fall was a rather dramatic piece by its theatricality and by the prominence of the dialogues, The Man from London is less theatrical, and as a matter of fact, it is Tarrs most taciturn film. While earlier films of Tarr were full of dialogues and long monologues, the main characters in this film almost never speak, and what they say is far from the poetic mannerism of Damnation or Satantango. The environment has lost much of is importance it had in earlier Tarr-films; the little town in which the film takes place functions rather as a neutral almost artificial background than as a space socially characterizing the figures. The complicated complot is also missing in this film that was so typical of almost all of Tarrs films. It is replaced by a very simple plot. Maloin, the protagonist is an unnoticed witness of a crime: two men starts a fight over a suitcase full of money, and one of them pushes the other into the sea, but the suitcase falls into the water too. While the murderer leaves to find some tool to recuperate the suitcase, Maloin fishes it out of the sea, and hides it in his tower from where he watches over the train station at the seaport. He in a way finds the money rather than steals it, but on the other hand he knows where to find it, and also knows that the money is of criminal origin. Maloin commits his half crime for the money of course, but his purpose is highly particular: the first thing he does is to order her daughter to leave the place she is working at. The second is to buy her an expensive luxurious fur. He does not explain his reasons even to his wife when she starts an angry fight with him as she does not understand how could he spend all of their money on such a superfluous thing, and how could he take their daughter out of the work. Maloin does not reveal anything to anyone
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and the viewer can only speculate about the high tension he carries in himself and about the reasons of this. We dont know much about any other charaters motivations either. The only thing Tarr is focusing on is to show us, or rather make us feel the desperate situation of all of the characters without ever explaining the reason of it. We look at Maloin, his wife and daughter, and we see their situation. We look at the man from London who killed his partner and desperately tries to get back the suitcase and we pity him. And above all, we see the eyes of his wife arriving from London. She says nothing except one sentence in the film but her face becomes the protagonist of the last part of story as she is the only really innocent victim of a story that took place behind her back and ruined her entire life.

With this film Tarr seems to leave behind the last remnants of his documentary style inspiration. The concreteness of all social reality is missing entirely. Also missing is all contingency from the actors play as they are nearly all professional and they have very few dialogues. What has remained is the extremely suggestive long take style, this time not connecting the characters to their environment, but rather forcefully inciting the viewer to try to feel the unspoken inner struggle of the characters. The atmosphere is darker and more serious here than anywhere else in the previous films. And what represents continuity above all is Tarrs steadfast and immovable empathy for the suffering of the innocent, the poor, and the sinful.

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