Thursday, August 09, 2012

Bela Tarr's black-and-white, bizarre world: "Karhozaf"; "Werckmeister Harmonies"


Sometimes, in these days of 3-D and Imax, you just want to see a little old black-and-white movie that makes you feel you are “at the movies”.  Such is the case with the crisp look (if glacial pace) of the 1988 film “Damnation” (or “Karhozaf”) from Hungarian director Bela Tarr, dating back to 1987, now from Facet video.

The film opens with a curious view of coal bin cars moving across a landscape along high wires; the film gradually frames the landscape from inside an office, and we see the lonely character Karrer (Miklos B. Szekely) leaving to go home alone.  It curious that in this film we rarely get a good, identifiable look at him. Having lost a female companion, he seeks a new one, an already married bar tips singer  (Vali Kerekes).  The local bar owner tries to unload him by directing him to a smuggling job – ever had the experience that an unsolicited job offer comes to take you out of your game?  I have! Karrer tries to pass the job along to the singer’s husband, but eventually betrays everyone with the police.  A final scene shows a gnarlish millstone of a useless man in a growling match with a wild dog, in a driving rain.  Dissolving storms, threatening to wash away the world in Noah-like fashion, characterize Tarr’s work.

There are some interesting existential discussions, as to whether not having children is a form of cowardice!
The brooding, static music score Mihaly Vig features long held dissonant chords in the strings, and emphasizes the mood of impending doom, and sometimes imparts an effect reminding me of David Lynch.  Yet, there are curious group scenes involving the townspeople, as a square dance scene where there is some incidental (if accidental) same-sex dancing.

I recall seeing a more complex, later film, also black-and-white, "Werckmeister Harmonies" (2000), at the Bell Auditorium at the University of Minnesota at an international film festival in Minneapolis in 2000. That film shows a curios view of the balance between commitment and entropy.  There is a charismatic young man Janos (Lars Rudolph) who takes care of an aging musician who wants to challenge the well-tempered scale of Bach.  The wintry (if snowless) barren world outside is disintegrating, however. A circus featuring a bizarre whale comes to town.  Eventually, the unpredictable disorder of the outside world will threaten Janos and the musician, and force them to pay attention to other people’s lives, which are not necessarily any more real.

This film is based on the novel "The Melancholy of Resistance" by Laszlo Krasznahorkai.


I am still trying to get “Turin Horse” from Netflix; it stays on short wait.

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