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Tarr at the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä, Finland (2012).
Debuting with the film Family Nest (1977), Tarr began his directorial career with a brief period of what he refers to as "social cinema", aimed at telling mundane stories about ordinary people, often in the style of cinema vérité. Over the next decade, the cinematic style and thematic elements of his films changed. Tarr has been interpreted as having a pessimistic view of humanity; the characters in his works are often cynical, and have tumultuous relationships with one another in ways critics have found to be darkly comic. Almanac of Fall (1984) follows the inhabitants of a run-down apartment as they struggle to live together while sharing their hostilities. The drama Damnation (1988) was lauded for its languid and controlled camera movement, which Tarr would become known for internationally. Sátántangó (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) continued his bleak and desolate representations of reality, while incorporating apocalyptic overtones; the former sometimes appears in scholarly polls of the greatest films ever made, and the latter received wide acclaim from critics. Tarr would later compete in the 2007 Cannes Film Festival with his film The Man from London, which opened to moderately positive reviews.
Frequent collaborators with Tarr include novelist László Krasznahorkai, film composer Mihály Víg, cinematographer Fred Kelemen, actress Erika Bók, and Tarr's wife Ágnes Hranitzky, who is sometimes credited as a co-director of his last three works. After the release of his film The Turin Horse (2011), which made many year-end "best-of" critics' lists, Tarr announced his definitive retirement from feature-length film direction. In February 2013 he started a film school in Sarajevo, known as film.factory, leaving in 2016. He has since premiered two short films in a 2017 Amsterdam exhibition.
Tarr was born in Pécs, but grew up in Budapest. His parents were both in the theatre and film industry: his father designed scenery, while his mother worked as a prompter at a theatre for more than 50 years. At the age of 10, Tarr was taken to a casting session run by Hungarian National Television (MTV) by his mother, and he ultimately won the role of the protagonist's son in a TV drama adaptation of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Other than a small role in Miklós Jancsó's film Szörnyek évadja (Season of Monsters, 1986) and few one-glimpse cameos (such as in Gábor Bódy's Dog's Night Song ), Tarr has sought no other acting roles. By his own account, initially he sought to become a philosopher, and considered film-making as something of a hobby. However, after making his 8mm short films, the Hungarian government would not allow Tarr to attend university so he instead chose to pursue film production.
Tarr began to realize his interest in film making at the age of 16 by making amateur films and later working as a caretaker at a national House for Culture and Recreation. Most of his amateur works were documentaries, mostly about the life of workers or poor people in urban Hungary. His amateur work brought him to the attention of the Béla Balázs Studios (named in honor of the Hungarian cinema theorist who helped fund Tarr's 1977 feature debut, Családi tűzfészek, which Tarr began filming at age 22.) He shot the film with little budget and using non-professional actors in six days. The film was faithful to the "Budapest school" or "documentarist" style popular at the time within Béla Balázs Studios, maintaining absolute social realism on screen. Critics found the film to suggest the influence of the American director John Cassavetes, although Tarr denied having seen any of Cassavetes's films prior to shooting Családi tűzfészek, which was released in 1979.
After completing "Családi tűzfészek," Tarr began his studies in the Hungarian School of Theatrical and Cinematic Arts. The 1980 film Szabadgyalog (The Outsider) and the following year's Panelkapcsolat (The Prefab People) continued in much the same vein, with small changes in style. The latter was the first film by Tarr to feature professional actors in the leading roles. With a 1982 television adaptation of Macbeth, his work began to change dramatically. The film is composed of only two shots: the first shot (before the main title) is five minutes long, the second 67 minutes long.
After 1984's Őszi almanach (Almanac of Fall), Tarr (who had written his first four features alone) began collaborating with Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai for 1988's Kárhozat (Damnation). A planned adaptation of Krasznahorkai's epic novel Sátántangó took over seven years to realize; the 415-minute film was finally released to international acclaim in 1994. After this epic he released the 35-minute Journey on the Plain in 1995, but fell into silence until 2000's Werckmeister Harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies). It was acclaimed by critics and the Festival circuit in general.
Many, if not most, of the shots in these later films are around six to eleven minutes long. It is possible that for some, a month was spent on a single shot. In many of these shots the camera swoops, glides, pans, and/or cranes. Often it circles the characters, and sometimes even spans multiple scenes. A shot may, as in the opening of Sátántangó, travel with a herd of cows around a village, or follow the nocturnal peregrinations of a drunkard who is forced to leave his house because he's run out of alcohol. Susan Sontag has championed Tarr as one of the saviors of the modern cinema, saying she would gladly watch Sátántangó once a year.
After Werckmeister Harmonies he began filming A Londoni férfi (The Man From London) an adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel. It was scheduled to be released at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival in May, but production was postponed because of the February suicide of producer Humbert Balsan. Additionally, there were disputes with other producers regarding a possible change in the film's financing. It premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and was released worldwide in 2008. Tarr then began working on a film called A torinói ló (The Turin Horse) which he has said will be his last.
For many years, none of his work was available on DVD (except in Japan), but Werckmeister Harmonies and Damnation have been made available on a two-disc DVD in Europe, courtesy of Artificial Eye (who have also issued The Man From London) and both films are now available in North America on separate DVDs from Facets Video. Tarr's early works; Family Nest, The Outsider, and The Prefab People are also available on DVD in the USA, courtesy of Facets. Facets was supposed to release Sátántangó on DVD on 28 November 2006 but was delayed until 22 July 2008. Artificial Eye released the film on 14 November 2006. A comparison of the two DVD editions has been posted at DVD Beaver.
In September 2012, he received the BIAFF special award for lifetime achievement.
In June 2017, he received the lifetime achievement at Sardinia Film Festival, XII edition.
Cine Foundation International
In January 2011, Tarr joined the Board of Directors of the recently formed cinema foundation and NGO for human rights Cine Foundation International. In a press release dated 24 January 2011 Tarr made the following statement regarding the imprisonment of filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof:
- Cinematography is an integral part of universal human culture! An attack against cinematography is desecrating universal human culture! This cannot be justified by any notion, ideology or religious conviction! Our friend, brother and esteemed colleague Jafar Panahi is in prison today, based on conjured and fictional accusations! Jafar did not do anything else than what is the duty of all of us; to talk honestly, fairly about our own country and loved ones, to show everything that surrounds us with tender tolerance and harsh austerity! Jafar’s real crime is that he did just that; gracefully, elegantly and with a roguish smile in his eyes! Jafar made us love his heroes, the people of Iran; he achieved that they have become members of our families! WE CANNOT LOSE HIM! This is our common responsibility, as despite all appearances we belong together.
Tarr is a critic of nationalism, and in a 2016 interview said, "Trump is the shame of the United States. Mr. Orbán is the shame of Hungary. Marine Le Pen is the shame of France. Et cetera." In a letter hung near the entrance to a pro-migration exhibition in front of the Hungarian Parliament, Tarr wrote, "We have brought the planet to the brink of catastrophe with our greediness and our unlimited ignorance. With the horrible wars we waged with the goal of robbing the people there. [...] Now we are confronted with the victims of our acts. We must ask the question: who are we, and what morality do we represent when we build a fence to keep out these people?"
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- Családi tűzfészek / Family Nest (1977)
- Szabadgyalog / The Outsider (1981)
- Panelkapcsolat / The Prefab People (1982)
- Őszi almanach / Almanac of Fall (1985)
- Kárhozat / Damnation (1988)
- Sátántangó / Satan's Tango (1994)
- Werckmeister harmóniák / Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
- A londoni férfi / The Man from London (2007)
- A torinói ló / The Turin Horse (2011)
- Macbeth (1982)
- Hotel Magnezit (1978)
- Utazás az alföldön / Journey on the Plain (1995)
- Visions of Europe (film) (2004)
- segment: Prologue
- City Life (1990)
- segment: Az utolsó hajó / The Last Boat
- Ramón Andrés, «Nada. A propósito de El caballo de Turín de Béla Tarr», en Pensar y no caer, Barcelona, Acantilado, 2016, pp. 195-220.
- Adam Bingham (July 2011). Directory of World Cinema. Intellect Books. pp. 206–. ISBN 978-1-84150-518-3.
- Ankeny, Jason. "Béla Tarr > Overview". Allmovie (All Media Guide). Retrieved 22 January 2011.
- Wilmington, Michael (10 May 1996). "HUNGARIAN BELA TARR'S GENIUS ON VIEW DURING FACETS RETROSPECTIVE". Chicago Tribune.
- Gaydos, Steven; Hofmann, Katja (20 March 2005). "'Man' overboard in Corsica". Variety.
- "Festival de Cannes: The Man from London". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 20 December 2009.
- "Satantango - Mihály Vig". Dvdbeaver.com. Archived from the original on 11 February 2013. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
- "FESTIVALS: BIAFF Grand Prix award goes to In Darkness". Archived from the original on 2 October 2012.
- Jones, Jenny (17 March 2008). "Gus Van Sant in the light of Béla Tarr". blogs.walkerart.org. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
I have been influenced by Béla Tarr’s films and after reviewing the last three works Damnation, Satantango, and Werckmeister Harmonies, I find myself attempting to rethink film grammar and the effect industry has had on it.
- Garage. "Bela Tarr Joins Cine Foundation International's Board of Directors on Production Notes". Mubi.com. Archived from the original on 4 January 2013. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- MacFarlane, Steve (6 December 2016). "Marrakech International Film Festival: An Interview with Director Béla Tarr". Slant. Retrieved 10 January 2017.
- Gray, Carmen (16 February 2017). "Béla Tarr: what can a new scene add to the legacy of a great director?". Calvin 22 Foundation. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
- Béla Tarr on IMDb
- Béla Tarr on the Board of Directors for Cine Foundation International
- Brightlightsfilm.com Interview
- Kinoeye Essay
- Declaration of Solidarity for Béla Tarr, by Fred Kelemen, FIPRESCI website, March 2005, retrieved 17 April 2006
- Vajramedia Presents: Sátántangó Berlinale 1994 Forum Documentation
- Tarr with His DFFB Film Students