In Honour of Béla Tarr’s Birthday: 25 Highlights of a Great Career

Note: This post is well overdue. It was Béla Tarr’s birthday last Saturday. But since I’ve been incredibly busy lately and I’ve had to slow down with blogging, I never got a chance to write and post this, and I really want to do so now. So here it is.

Béla Tarr has been making films since the seventies. With his latest film, the arthouse success The Turin Horse, he has announced his retirement and shut down his film company. His directing days are officially over. Eight months ago I stumbled across a movie directed by Tarr. I hadn’t seen any of the man’s movies but had been interested in him for a while. After reading some positive reviews and getting quite excited, I sat down on Friday the 16th of December, 2011 at 1:30pm to watch something called Werckmeister Harmonies. The following two and a half hours – I kid you not – changed my life.

Emerging from the film afterwards I was in what can be lightly described as a state. I was shaky, emotional, tearful and thoroughly blown away. Some people I know have said it’s ridiculous to say a film changed your life, but if there’s one film that really did that for me, it was Werckmeister Harmonies. What can I say? It’s my favourite film ever made. And fuck it – it’s the best film ever made.

Since seeing Werckmeister Harmonies that cold and unforgettable day, I’ve also seen six other Tarr films, including the seven-hour Satantango (in one unbroken sitting) and the aforementioned Turin Horse. Now I’m going to list 25 highlights of Tarr’s career; moments, scenes, or simply still images that for me represent the genius of the director and my undying admiration for him. These are the highlights that on their own cannot encapsulate fully the genius of the man but do a good job at trying. Tarr’s films you have to see for yourself, but here’s a taste. These films are all in chronological order:

1: The vicious argument at the start of The Prefab People.

2: The realization in The Prefab People that all may not be as real as it seems.

3: The final shot of the young couple in The Prefab People, sitting on the back of a truck with a newly bought washing machine.

4: The striking use of colour in Almanac of Fall.

5: The first appearance of a Mihaly Vig score in Almanac of Fall.

6: The scene where the camera shows the characters above us standing on glass in Almanac of Fall.

7: The opening scene of buckets travelling into the sky in Damnation.

8: The melancholic singing of a woman in a nightclub in Damnation in a haunting shot that seems to last eternity, slowly drifting into her despair-ridden face as Mihaly Vig’s piano tinkles away and a marvellous saxophone wails in pain.

9: The scene in which the couples’ dance and hold each other in such desperation for warmth in Damnation. This is a scene that really makes me weep, as all its about is lonely people searching so painfully for someone to cling to. The musical score in the scene is also spectacularly saddening.

10: Satantango. Those bells.

11: The scene where Irimias and Petrina walk through the wind, trash blowing around them, in Satantango.

12: The doctor embarking into the cold to get more alcohol in Satantango.

13: The sheer length and ingenuity of the absolutely hilarious pub dancing scene in Satantango

14: …and how it is abruptly interrupted with a haunting shot of a character standing outside in the cold, watching these drunkards, her cruel fate finally certain.

15: The final 30 minutes of Satantango. Consider my mind blown all over the fucking wall.

16: The camera drifting away in the middle of the ten-minute opening shot of Werckmeister Harmonies, as Mihaly Vig’s score kicks in.

17: “But Mr. Hagelmayer, it’s still not over.” The best line in any movie ever.

18: Face to face with a dead whale’s eye in Werckmeister.

19: The hospital riot interrupted by a confrontation with human innocence, frailty and life as Mihaly Vig’s tear-inducing score kicks in for maximum effect.

20: The helicopter circling Janos, his awful fate becoming horrifically certain.

21: The slow camera movement that opens The Man from London, Mihaly Vig’s restrained strings haunting the soundtrack.

22: The epic fade to white that closes The Man from London.

23: Mihaly Vig’s recurring theme in The Turin Horse.

24: The haunting monologue that closes the first act of Turin Horse, and how it is really the big final statement of Tarr’s career.

25: The protagonists of The Turin Horse thrusted into darkness, much like Tarr’s fans, forced now to confront the empty void left in part of us that only Tarr could fill.

There. Those are my twenty-five key scenes or moments in all the Béla Tarr films I’ve seen. I hope you watched some of the video clips. What do you think?


Posted on July 27, 2012, in Filmmakers, Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I’ve only seen The Turin Horse, but it has haunted me ever since.

  2. I’m new to Bela Tarr and the only thing I want to ask is this… where should I start?

  3. It must be hard to only pick 3 moments from films you really love. I really want to watch some of these films. But there so intimidating and hard to find (I can’t even find Werckmeister Harmonies at the library or any download sites). Is Tarr planning on any other endeavors after filmmaking?

    • Three Tarr films are on YouTube (though you really shouldn’t watch them online unless it’s a last resort). Click here for part one of Werckmeister Harmonies, here for part one of Damnation and here for part one of The Man from London, and enjoy.

  4. #8 is my personal favorite. I could probably watch that scene every day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.

    • It is an amazing scene. The faces of characters in Damnation throughout the movie are some of the saddest faces I’ve ever seen.

  5. I have been fascinated with this man since I discovered this site. I google interviews with him nearly every single day and browse online to check out his filmography. I don’t want to watch his films online as they seem to beg to be owned. And besides, the movie watching experience is much more pleasant without having to stop between parts. I will be ordering Werckmeister Harmonies with my next paycheck and can hardly wait.

    • Haha wow that shows an amazing interest in a man whose films you haven’t even seen! I admire it. You have so much good stuff ahead of you to be watched. Let me know when you get ahold of Werckmeister.

  6. I’ve been on the hunt for Bela Tarr since Bonjour Tristesse reviewed Damnation (i think) and at this point I think i’m going to have to wait until I get to Budapest before finding an boxset (hopefully) for what certainly appears to be a truly great filmmaker. As with Teddy above your enthusiasm for the subject alone would have been enough to encourage me to do this.

    • His films are well worth hunting out. I hope to inspire some people to try and find them, because otherwise they’d just be ignored, and that would be a travesty.

  7. I’m kinda ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen any Tarr Béla films.. I’m Hungarian. The sheer knowledge that Satantango exists really just freaked me out (why? why is a movie that long??), wanted to watch it when I get 90, can hardly move and got bored from all the soap operas. I guess I can kiss those plans goodbye.. You really just made me excited about his works, thank you 🙂 It must be weird for non-Hungarians not to understand the women’s song in Damnation, all the signs on the streets and everything.. even I find it odd if something’s not in English.

    Well, just wanted to say thank you 🙂

    • Wow, I’m strangely excited that someone Hungarian has read this post, even if you haven’t seen any Tarr films. I suggest you start with Werckmeister Harmóniák, which is my favourite film of his, and also my favourite film of all time. I hope you like whatever you see. Thanks!

  8. I just chanced upon Werckmeister Harmóniák a week back and am watching it, it is turning out to be one of the best movies ever for me,

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