Bela Tarr… when will they release you?!

Tarr’s Satantango, which I’ve seen 3 times (this required two film festivals, Berlin and SF, and a retrospective, as the 8.5 hour film is not in circulation), is one of the finest things ever rendered in celluloid. Susan Sontag used to say she could (and others should) see it once a year. Well we would if we could!

I have to take issue with the notion that Tarr is nihilistic. That’s like accusing Francis Bacon of morbidity interest in the carnal… To paint horror is not to be horrifying. Filming the bleak is not to affirm bleak. Subject matter is not opinion. How do they put it these days? “The interviews contained on this video disc do not represent….etc.” Perhaps Tarkovsky is more interested in our destiny, or destination, and Tarr more interested in the getting there. But both know what it is to look, and to reveal what they see.

“Tarkovsky died in 1986 and is buried in Paris. His influence is visible in the work of several major contemporary directors. His friend Alexander Sokurov (whose Moscow Elegy [1987] is a beautiful film essay on Tarkovsky) has often been perceived as his ‘successor’ and there is a definite affinity in their use of rural landscape and their spiritual preoccupations. However there are more differences than similarities and at worst the ‘new Tarkovsky’ label obscures the more versatile Sokurov’s very particular achievements. Sharunas Bartas’ impressive studies of incommunicability are Tarkovskian in their use of time and attention to the visual textures of objects, faces and buildings. But perhaps the most interesting ‘answer’ to Tarkovsky is the more recent work of Béla Tarr, most notably his masterpiece Sátántango (1997). Although he employs many of the same techniques as Tarkovsky with comparable authority, he could be described as the Russian’s negative mirror image. In the nihilistic vision of atheist misanthrope Tarr, the promise of salvation is a dangerous illusion often used as a weapon of power and frequently leading to confusion and violence. Even at its bleakest, Tarkovsky’s universe is suffused with faith and the idea of transcendence.”

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