Bela Tarr (Hungary, 1955) was one of the greatest filmmakers of the
post-communist era in Eastern Europe (and anywhere in the world).
His cinema sticks to black and white like to a religion.
His specialty are
long takes that indulge in the non-obvious meaning of the scene.
The film is usually framed between
powerful opening scenes and cryptic ending scenes.
Csaladi Tuzfeszek/ Family Nest (1977),
his contribution to the "documentarist" movement.
worked on a sarcastic anti-establishment fictitious documentary,
Csaladi Tuzfeszek (1979), made even before he had started film school,
depicting the struggle of ordinary people
under communism and the stupidity of the bureaucracy (and starring nonprofessional actors).
Tarr concocted a TV
version of Shakespeare's Macbeth (1980) in one long 67-minute take (past the initial five minute introduction).
Szabadgyalog/ The Outsider (1981),
filmed with mostly nonprofessional actors who were free to improvise to some extent,
Panelkapcsolat/ Prefab People (1982), the first of his films to use professional actors, and also his first black-and-white film,
complete (with Family Nest) a quasi-documentarian trilogy devoted to commemorate the terrible conditions of life under communism.
The latter is not told chronologically: the scenes seem to be shuffled
randomly. Or it could be that the film is a flashback to explain the first
scene, and then it continues from that scene on.
A band is performing in the street and families watch from their windows.
A man, Robi, pack his things and leaves his wife, despite her cries and despite
their two children.
In the next scene they are celebrating their ninth anniversary. The man bought
little presents to make her happy, but this is the rare occasion when she can
talk to him, so she complains that she lives a miserable life taking care of
the children in that small flat that is de facto her prison while he has all
the freedom he wants. That day she was expecting some big news from his factory
but he tells her that it will take a few more days if not weeks.
He works at the control panel of a factory.
He and his three colleagues play like children during work hours.
One evening he watches a tv program about socialism.
they take the children to the swimming pool. He tells her that he just wants
to say hello to a friend, but then spends almost two hours with Gyuri, who
has decided to leave that boring town. When he gets back to his wife, she's mad
at him because he left her alone with two children.
At the hairdresser
she tells a friend that her husband hasn't taken her to dance in a long time.
This is followed by
a lengthy scene in a humble dancehall with wife and husband drinking
while a woman is performing popular songs.
He dances with another woman while she watches nervously.
The party eventually continues without the singer and the musicians,
just a group of friends drinking and singing. She is clearly unhappy,
forgotten and friendless.
Robi comes homes with the news that the factory offered him the chance to
spend two years abroad in Romania. This means they will have money to
buy a car in one year and possibly a house in two years.
She doesn't care about the money, she doesn't want to be left alone with the children for two years.
We are sent back to the first scene, or a very similar scene:
he is packing his stuff and leaving her. He says that this is "for good", so
it doesn't sound like it has to do with the two years in Romania.
She's scared that he might be happier alone.
Then they are shown together again as they buy a washing machine.
They take it back home in a truck through a street with no traffic.
(It could be that he came back with enough money to buy an appliance or it
could be a random episode in their married life).
The claustrophobic kammerspiel
Oszi Almanach/ Autumn Almanac (1984),
shot entirely indoors and devoted to a domestic drama,
marked the transition of Tarr's cinema from the sociological sphere to the
existential sphere (and from the fictional documentary to fully narrative cinema)
and began his descent into an infernal circle of lugubrious pessimism.
It's a failed chromatic experiment: Tarr opts for more stylish takes in multiple different formats while indulging in maniacal close-ups. The scenes are
captured through blue and orange filters.
The film is a sequence of dialogues, permutations of the five characters.
The film opens with a philosophical dialogue between an elderly woman, Hedi, and a man, who is later revealed to be the lover of her nurse Anna,
She is wealthy but has many regrets.
Anna is an attractive woman. We first see her proclaiming her love to her lover Miklos.
Hedi argues with her son Jonas who lives off her,
accusing him of wasting his life in booze and whores.
She is upset that Jonas invited a friend to move in with them.
Jonas rudely reminds her that she's going to die soon and he will inherit the apartment.
Jonas even threatens to kill her.
Anna talks to Jonas about Hedi's stinginess and
we learn that she's her nurse.
Anna is sorry for the son.
A middle-aged man arrives, Tibor, a teacher.
Anna consoles Hedi who is crying because of his son's cruelty.
Hedi chats with Tibor about their generation.
Anna cuts the hair of her lover Miklos.
Tibor makes a phone call trying to get something back that he pawned to pay for a debt but doesn't have the money.
Miklos eavesdropping on the conversation while smoking a cigarette.
Miklos then shaves Tibor and
suggests that he talks to Hedi about the money he needs.
Hedi tells Tibor that she was not happy when she was living alone with her son,
but then Anna moved in to take care of her injections, and Anna's lover followed her and now the house feels more comfortable. Hedi confesses that she's
afraid of her own son.
Hedi turns off the lights to go to bed. Tibor
and Janos walk in drunk and fight. Tibor tells Janos that he's in love with Hedi and Janos is disgusted.
Tibor confesses to Anna that he is a failure. He needs someone who'd accept his weaknesses but doubts that such a person exists.
Then we see Anna hugging him but the camera moves slowly away so we can't tell what happens next.
Anna administers an injection to Hedi and confesses that she slept with Tibor,
and it was the best sex of her life.
Hedi says that she's not angry even if Anna has two boyfriends in the house.
Hedi plays cards with Anna's lover Miklos. He asks Hedi if Anna slept with the
teacher and Hedi says yes. Hedi justifies Anna as just a woman who wants to provoke her lover.
Tibor gives confused advice to Jonas on how to repair his relationship with his mother, and his mother is listened to them.
Hedi scolds Tibor, who promises to stop drinking.
Then suddenly we see Anna's lover Miklos and the teacher Tibor fighting on the floor, and the scene is shown from under the floor (as if the floor were transparent). Then we see Anna and Hedi coming to stop Anna's lover.
Then we see Hedi sitting on a chair, surrounded by the others who are standing up silently like statues.
Hedi pleads Jonas to start doing something with his life, sad that all he does is begging her for money.
Jonas asks Tibor to ask Hedi for money because she refuses to give any to him, but instead Tibor the teacher too lectures him.
Jonas attacks him, demanding that he gives him the jewelry that he stole from his mother. Tibor initially denies stealing any jewelry but then admits that he pawned it to pay his debts.
Jonas takes the pawn ticket.
Anna's lover Miklos plays the piano and chats with Hedi about Hedi's fortune.
Jonas grabs Anna in the kitchen and kisses her against her will. She defends herself but he rapes her from behind. She doesn't scream for help but tells him that he's disgusting.
Anna tells her lover Miklos that she still loves him but Miklos rejects her.
Anna then sleeps with Jonas. Jonas tells her of his intention to sell his mother's jewelry.
Miklos tells Hedi that he saw Anna in Jonas' room,
and Jonas was showing her a pawn ticket, and that Tibor stole her jewelry.
Anna tells Miklos that Jonas wants to marry her and tells Miklos to move out.
But then Hedi kicks Anna out of the house. The two fight because Anna refuses to leave.
Hedi asks Miklos for advice. He has become her trusted confidant.
Miklos advises Hedi to report Tibor to the police, and to leave
no money to Janos and Anna.
Hedi makes the phone call to the police.
Tibor tries to assuage Hedi's anger and disappointment, but
is arrested and taken away.
The ending is cryptic:
we see the four having dinner together, a party during which
Hedi and Janos dance together, and Anna and her lover dance together.
A flashback to a happier era, or a weird restauration of the old order?
Karhozat/ Damnation (1988) began
the trilogy of adaptations of Laszlo Krasznahorkai novels set in a
and also began the collaboration with soundtrack composer Mihaly Vig.
Tarr here mastered his stylistic experiments: images and sounds reinvent cinematic language as an hypnotic and hallucinatory experience.
People move like zombies, crushed under the weight
of an endless agony. The material misery of the sociological trilogy morphs
into psychological misery.
Actors speak like robots, long sentences with no emotion. They stand still like
mannequins. They dance like puppets.
Superficially, this is a typical film noir: a lonely man seduced by a heartless
cabaret singer; but everything gets distorted by
Dostoevsky-ian nihilism, Sartre-esque boredom, Beckett-ian absurd,
and Hamletic philosophizing,
not to mention the wasteland that encapsulates it all.
The man doesn't fail or die: he becomes a snitch and traitor, so obsessed
to get rid of his rival.
The weakest part of the film are the dialogues.
A man stares outside the window at cable cars that are slowly sliding across
the horizon. Then he shaves and walks down the stairs. He watches as someone
gets into the car and drives away. Then he crosses the deserted square and
knocks at a door. A woman opens but doesn't let him in: she tells him that
she has chosen to live with her daughter, even though she loves him. He walks
into a bar where the bartender scolds him for getting drunk every day and
offers him a shady job transporting some valuable merchandise. Karrer
declines but says he may know someone else for the job.
Then he walks to a club where the woman sings a very melancholy song.
Her husband Sebestyen threatens to kill him if he doesn't leave her
alone. The old coat-check woman of the club warns Karrer that the woman is a leech:
her husband Sebestyen is now full of debts. Karrer offers the job to
Sebestyen, knowing that he needs money, and
Alone with him, the chanteuse tells Karrer that she wants to become famous and
therefore she wants to move to the big city.
While he is watching under the rain Sebestyen drive away, the old woman gives
recites to him a biblical passage. In the back we see a pack of dogs.
As soon as the husband is gone, Karrer makes love to the singer, but she stills
tells him to get out of her life. While they have sex we hear the noise of the
cable cars. He tells her the story of how his wife, humiliated by him,
committed suicide. In a silent scene we see all the people of the village
staring out of the building while the camera pans from left to right to show
their immutable faces.
Karrer, Sebestyen and the bar owner meet in a dancehall after Sebestyen returns
from the mission.
Sebestyen predicts that Karrer will end badly sooner or later.
We see the whole village again, but this time it is dancing.
Outside it's raining. When the party is over and everybody has left, the old woman (who has been staring at the dancers) walks around the chaotic dancehall, wears her coat and walks out. Outside a young man is stomping his shoes in the rainwater, like marching without advancing.
Karrer goes to the police to report what Sebestyen has just done.
He then walks into the rain until he reaches a derelict place where he is
confronted by a dog. He gets on all fours and barks back at the dog until it
Satantango/ Satan's Tango (1994),
another Krasznahorkai adaptation and another magisterial Mihaly Vig soundtrack,
a seven-hour tour de force,
photographed in rich black-and-white by Gabor Medvigy,
and littered with excruciatingly slow gliding takes,
is one of those multi-layered allegories that can take forever to unravel.
The herd of brainless cows seen at the beginning could be a satirical allegory
for what happens in the rest of the film, when the magician lures the
townfolks with his scheme,
and it could be a political allegory about capitalism, that has come to Eastern
Europe with the promise of liberation from dictatorship but will turn out to
be a more effective form of exploitation.
The isolated impoverished and sometimes brutish community is captive of a
never-ending cycle of betrayal, ignorance and supersition, metaphorically
embodied by the incessant rain.
Despite the epic duration of the film, the action takes place in a relatively
short period of time. That period, however, is scientifically and cynically
dissected and then reshuffled from different perspectives, until it becomes
much more than experienced time.
The various parts overlap chronological and Tarr constructs his jigsaw puzzle
in a way to maximize the dramatic effect (for example,
when the camera shows a close-up of the girl looking inside from the window,
a scene we've already seen from the outside,
and we've already seen that she committed suicide a few hours later).
The absence of movement is mirrored in the absence of pyschology: the characters
are barely introduced, and the only psychological features that emerge are those
related to their role in the plot.
They live pointless lives
(passive like the cattle of the first scene)
and desperately need something to believe in.
What originated as a utopian farming community in the intents of the
Marxist intellectuals of a century earlier has turned into a protracted
torture of the soul.
They find hope in the feared
mythological messianic con-man and police informer who lures the masses with the mirage of a promised land.
His comic partner is a sign that nobody can read, even if it obviously reveals
the unreliability of the prophet.
As they are waiting for the imminent irrevocable apocalypse, the characters
join in a spirited wild dance, a liberation of
hedonistic impulses that is reminiscent of the "danses macabres" during
the medieval plague.
There are two massive symbols of failure and destruction, the two characters
who only marginally belong to the town's tragedy:
a lonely demonic child and
a drunk impotent observer, voyeur and self-appointed librarian.
The real protagonist is the amorality of the community: the film opens with
a man screwing his friend's wife and soon learning that this friend is trying
to steal his money, and then we learn that these eight men and women have
cheated the man they fear, and then a
child commits suicide after her drunk mom ignores her and her brother steals
her savings, and then
the girl herself tortures a cat for no apparent reason... The list of sins
goes on and on, and culminates with everybody being cheated of their whole
savings by a man who is both a terrorist and a police informer.
It's a devastating judgment on human nature in what should have been an idyllic rural community: everybody is willing to sell their soul for anything.
The best scenes are probably:
the doctor who observes the world and diligently catalogs it
and the wild dance in the bar.
All of this is related via a cinematic style that turns both the natural and the urban environments into metaphysical melancholy spaces, almost as if Tarr was hinting at a fifth dimension beyond time, or as if he wanted us to experience time after death.
We follow a group of cows as they wander around the poor deserted rural
Futaki wakes up hearing bells, but that's impossible because the nearest
chapel has long fallen into ruin and it is too far anyway.
He looks outside the window but doesn't see anything suspicious.
Then the woman wakes up and washes her genitals in a washbasin on the floor.
She tells him that she had a nightmare in which a man tried to kill her,
and she is sure it's a premonition about her husband.
He knows that something is going to happen that day.
The woman's husband, Schmidt, walks in and Futaki barely has time to dress up and escape (he is limping and leans on a walking stick).
He overhears the man telling the woman that she has to pack because they are
leaving in a hurry. The husband and their friend Kraner are plotting to run away
with the money that they were supposed to share with six other men, one
of which is Futaki himself.
Futaki returns to confront Schmidt, who simply invites
Futaki to join them and split the money in three parts instead of eight.
Schmidt and Kraner were ready to leave the night before, the one that Futaki
spent with Schmidt's wife, but then came back to take the woman with them.
Schmidt wants a loan from Futaki. Schmidt's wife fears that they will get
arrested the moment they leave town. Schmidt and Futaki split the money
under the greedy look of Schmidt's wife. But then the Kraner woman comes to
bring terrifying news:
Irimias the wizard and his assistant Petrina are alive and just arrived in town.
They had been believed to be dead, but based only on the word of a Sanyi.
The Kraner woman is ready to hide and run.
Irimiais and Petrina are summoned at the police station. The captain inquires
why they have not found a job after being released from prison.
The captain gives them an ultimatum: work for him or go back to jail.
The two enter a cafe and start talking aloud of blowing up people one by one,
alarming both the staff and the patrons of the cafe, but they are really
talking about the traitors.
Then they walk on a muddy path out of town while the wind is blowing.
A young man is waiting for them. He is Sanyi, the one who spread the rumor
that they had died. He reminds them that they promised to get him the wives
of the traitors in return for his help. He fantasizes about their big tits.
Someone, a fat man who is a chain smoker and drinks all the time,
is spying on Futaki with a binocular. This man has a file for each
of the eight traitors and takes notes on what they do. His house is not the
house of a farmer but instead full of papers.
We see the first scene again from his perspective: Futaki sneak out of the
house, then come and knock at the door.
A woman, Kraner, comes to bring him food. She calls him "doctor".
He is already drunk and treats her
rudely. She announces that, due to the start of the rain season, she won't be
able to go to town anymore to fetch him what he needs.
Since the previous year she didn't have that reaction when the rain season
came, the "doctor" deduces that she must have a plan.
Then he collapses to the floor, completely drunk. He crawls to his bed,
pulls out a syringe from a drawer and gives himself a shot that gives him
strength again. Back to his desk, he tries to drink more but he realizes that
he ran out of his liquor. He diligently makes a note of it in his diary.
That convinces him to leave the house even if it's raining outside and it's
getting dark. First he stops to get cigarettes from two prostitutes who are
waiting in vain for customers in a huge abandoned barn and then walks towards
town. As he is about to enter the bar, he trips and falls. A little girl tries
to help him but she's scared of his drunkedness.
He keeps walking until he drops in the mud and falls asleep despite the rain.
He is woken up in the morning by a man who
gives him a ride on his horse-driven cart.
During a thundering storm Kelemen walks into the bar of the village and tells
the bar owner that Irimias is back. The bar owner has a fit of anger, determined
to defend what he thinks is his. While the other men of the conspiracy arrive,
Kelemen gets drunk and blasphemous, in vain reproached by a religious woman.
They are all afraid of what is going to happen.
During one of the few moments with no rain,
Sanyi takes his young sister Estike to the woods. They start digging.
The camera is initially very far, then it moves closer and closer to them,
as if it were a god. Sanyi is burying Estike's money, promising that she
will get rich. She returns home but her mom tells her to stay outside while
she chats with a male visitor.
Left outside alone, Estike climbs into the upper storey of the barn and
plays with the cat.
she tries to have a fight with the animal but the cat does not respond.
She traps it in a net and hangs the net from the ceiling so the cat can't move.
Then she pours rat poison in a bowl of milk and forces the cat to drink the
deadly potion. Then she takes the cat with her and
walks back to the woods. She sees that the money has been taken, looks for
her brother and demands that he returns the money. But he has no intention
of doing it, and she's too small to fight him, so she just walks away holding
her dead cat. She gets into town that it is getting dark.
She watches from outside the people who are dancing in the bar.
That's when the doctor arrives, looking for liquor, and collapses to the ground
in front of her.
in the middle of the night she walks by herself on a
long straight deserted country road, still carrying
her dead cat. By morning she's still walking on that road.
She stops in a ruined building where she takes the same poison she gave to the
cat and lies down waiting to die, still hugging her cat.
Futaki and the Sdhmids are in the bar listening to an ever more drunk Kelemen
telling for the 1000th time the story of how he met Irimias and heard him
look for gunpowder.
Estike's mother comes to look for her daughter and drinks a bottle while
the drunkard is still shouting that Irimias is coming to take his revenge
with the gunpowder.
The bar owner, alone with Futaki, vents his anger and his fear: Irimias
gave them the idea to plant onions and it worked, but then Irimias behaved
as if he owned it, and the bar owner is not willing to give him credit of
anything other than having had a simple idea.
Later the people in the bar start dancing at the music of an accordionist,
the scene we saw from the outside through Estike's eyes,
Futaki drumming on the table with his walking stick.
When the camera shows us a close-up of Estike looking inside from the window,
the effect is devastating because we know that she's going to die in a few
When every man has collapsed,
a bald man who has been sitting calmly in the back grabs the Schmidt woman for one last dance: he's
the headmaster and promises her a new life in the city if she elopes with him.
The body of Estike is found. The small community assembles around her body.
Irimias give a speech. He announces that he has plans to create a utopian
far in which all of them will be happy. But he needs their money: they all
drop a roll of banknotes on the bed where Estike is lying. Irimias pockets
the money and sleeps with the Schmidt woman. Later Irimias gives them an
appointment for early morning at a nearby manor
and the eight traitors return to their homes.
The bar owner comments that they have been screwed. The only
person who is left in the bar is Estike's mother, drunk. She mentions that
her husband hanged himself in the attic and that the two prostitutes are
Estike's older sisters.
The eight prepare to move. They pack everything they can in suitcases and
backpacks and on wheelbarrows. And they destroy all their furniture so it
won't fall into the hands of gypsies. Then they set out on the road towards
the manor. They get their in the evening. The manor is in complete ruins.
They explore it without saying a word. Then they lie down and sleep on the
Now we see the events from Irimias' viewpoint starting from the moment when
he bid farewell to the eight at the bar. This time the camera is behind Irimias.
He and his buddies Petrina and Sanyi leave the village making fun of the eight
peasants. They walk on the usual long road until they reach the abandoned
manor. The place is wrapped in fog. Irimias gets on his knees and waits until
the fog disappears. Then they resume their march. They enter town while a
pack of horses is running around the main square. The horses ran away from
From the dialogue we understand that Irimias' goal is not to start a utopian
community of farmers but to commit an act of terrorism against the state.
In town they stay at the inn of a friend. Irimias sends for a gentleman
who is to provide the explosives he will need.
Meanwhile at the desolate manor the men are getting nervous, having understood
that Irimias has cheated them. However,
Irimias does show up, although much later than agreed. He brings bad news:
the authorities are opposed to his project. The men asked to have their money
back. Irimias initially complies but his rhetoric makes them feel bad that they
don't believe in his plan and eventually they beg him to take the money back.
Irimias' plan is that they scatter around the country and reconvene in a few
months. Therefore he drives them to a train station and gives them barely
enough money to survive the trip to the destinations that he has mapped out
The only one who doesn't want any help from Irimias is Futaki, who perhaps has
understood that they have been indeed been cheated of their money forever.
Alla of this happens in a town that seems to have no inhabitants: a strong
wind whips the streets as Irimias and his two buddies walk away.
The police receive a report on the eight characters, signed by Irimias.
The report emphasizes that Futaki is the only dangerous one.
After spending several months in a hospital, the doctor walks back home,
his cask finally full of liquor. He sits at the usual place, facing the window
from which he spies on the village. Not seeing anybody around, he figures that
they must be sleeping while it rains.
Suddenly, the church bells begin to ring again... It is not raining anymore.
The doctor walks out in the (as usual) deserted village.
We are back to the beginning: the doctor repeats the first sentences of the
film about the oddity of hearing the bells of a chapel that was bombed
during the war. He reaches the chapel and
finds a possessed man banging on a piece of metal in lieu of a bell and
shouting "The Turks are coming!"
The doctor seems to believe the warning because he returns home and
barricades himself boarding the very window from which he was spying the
village life. We hear him say that Futaki was woken up by bells, just like
at the beginning of the film, which makes it sound like the whole film was
just a fiction of the doctor's imagination.
Werckmeister Harmoniak/ Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), based on
Krasznahorkai's novel "The Melancholy of Resistance" (1986), is one of the
best demonstrations of Tarr's multifaceted style:
hypnotic, expressionistic, hyper-realistic and allegoric.
The allegory, however, is neither trivial nor explicit.
The viewer is left with her own interpretations of the facts.
The putative protagonist is an idiot savant who never sleeps and has a kind
soul, but it would be more accurate to say that the facts are related through
this man's eyes. He doesn't make anything happen. He is simply a spectator,
and one who gets traumatized by the events.
However, there is a point towards the end when he reads in a book the events
that just took place: is the film just happening in his mind? is he causing
them to happen like an intermediary between a supernatural power and humans?
We are never shown the face of the Prince who is supposedly behind the town's
chaotic state, but we hear him speak in a foreign language (assuming that
the translator provides a faithful translation) and in a philosophical manner
more aking to a god than to an entertainer/revolutionary. It is also puzzling
that the leader of the revolution who is also its philosopher (a sort of
Lenin of the situation) would arrive in town as a circus attraction.
Tunde is a co-conspirator, the one who seems to exploit popular superstition
(and possibly foment it) to her political advantage. Gyuri is a respected
scholar who, instead of stopping her, is distracted in the fight against an
irrelevant conspiracy in music, a pointless exercise while
the world is going down the tube (he refuses to visit the whale until the
very end and his look at the end is a guilty one, the look of someone who
should have done it much earlier).
The mob doesn't talk, like in horror movies about zombies; but it is stopped
by a David Lynch-ian naked old man, a supernatural figure cast in the most
humane of forms.
The close-up of a wood stove signals a very cold season.
A pub owner invites the customers to leave, as it is time to close.
One of the customers pulls the young Janos Valushka into the middle of
the pub and asks him to perform his magic. Janos grabs two of the customers
(everybody being drunk to some degree) and simulates the motion of the Moon
around the Earth and of the Earth around the Sun, one man standing in the
middle to play the Sun, one man revolving around him, and another man revolving
around this one. Soon this turns into a dance, but Janos also warns that the
motion of the cosmic bodies occasionally turns into an eclipse for people on
the Earth, and the eclipse spreads darkness and terror before the light
returns. The bar owner loses his patients and kicks everybody out. As he walks
through the door, Janos utters an ominous "It is not finished".
The events themselves are wrapped in mystery. It is possible that this is
just a sarcastic aphorism on the stupidity of the masses, that the whole
mess is caused by gossip that people believe and propagate until the
senseless violence of the crowd is set in motion.
It is also likely that the Prince and the whale are the pivotal symbols
of the story.
It could be a political allegory about the arrival of democracy in Eastern
Europe (the whale) and the danger that it will fall into the wrong hands
again (the invisible foreign Prince).
It could also be a meditation about human nature in general.
Everything is magnified by the
ghostly, almost drugged languor of the camera's slow movements
(especially during the mob's attack on the hospital).
The apocalypse, however, does not have an ending: Tunde simply changes sides,
Gyuri returns to his studies. Some people lost their lives. The innocent
spectator, Janos, ends up in a madhouse. In a nutshell, that's what history
is all about: the mob that is easily victim of superstitions, the cunning
opportunist who exploits the mob's superstition to start a revolution,
the intellectual who neglects his social responsibilities, the innocents who
are traumatized forever, and the survivors of the mob who return home ashamed.
Janos walks in the dark, deserted, cold streets of the town.
He visits his uncle Gyuri, a scholar who lives in a nice apartment, and helps
him go to bed.
Back in the empty streets Janos stops to watch as a a tractor slowly
advances towards him pulling a gigantic corrugated metal container.
The tractor passes in front of him at a snail pace.
In the back of the container is a poster that advertises "the world's largest whale" on behalf of a circus.
Janos then visits another uncle, Bela, who is busy printing the newspaper.
A woman who works there (his aunt?) sarcastically asks him how the cosmos
is doing. She then unleashes a litany of complaints about the
shortage of coal during a record cold winter, that crime is on the rise
and all sorts of social ills.
She blames the problems on mysterious enemies.
She is annoyed by the arrival of the circus,
which is just another problem: one of its attractions is a "Prince" who has
three eyes and can perform miracles like resurrecting a church clock that
had not struck the hours in a long time.
All of this is told over the creaking noise of the printing press that
is printing the newspaper.
She is an angry woman who talks like a prophet of the apocalypse.
Back in the empty streets, Janos begins his daily job of delivering the
newspaper to the sleeping families of the town.
In one building he meets another uncle (he calls everybody "uncle"),
Karcsi, dressed in a uniform, who is drunk or crazy and talks of
hundreds of mysterious people who came by train to see the whale.
He too hints at a conspiracy against the unsuspecting inhabitants of the town.
When Janos returns to his uncle Gyuri, the scholar is busy
taping his theory of a conspiracy,
about the way music is made, that he thinks is based on a false premise.
Janos listens quietly.
Gyuri has embarked on a mission to discredit the system of tuning invented
three centuries earlier by a German scholar, Andreas Werckmeister.
It is daylight now and
the square is full of people; but nobody moves and nobody talks.
They all stare as the giant container opens
and a ticket seller opens his little stall.
Janos is the first one to buy a ticket to see the whale: it is a stuffed
animal. Janos is fascinated by this creature that comes from a distant
ocean (note: Hungary is a landlocked country).
He can finally go home and rest. He lives in the same building as his
uncle Lajos, a cobbler. Janos' apartment consists of one tiny, desolate,
dilapidated room. A close-up of his wood stove relates to the first scene.
He makes himself breakfast (canned soup). His
aunt Tunde comes in with an air of gravity.
She is Gyuri's wife but they have separated.
She asks Janos to plead with uncle Gyuri for an important cause:
the citizens want to organize a political movement ot restore order to the town,
and Gyuri is the only one who is charismatic enough to get all the notables on
board. Tunde wants Gyuri to get the signatures of all the people on her list,
and she wants it done by the afternoon; otherwise she threatens (with an evil
smile) to move back into the house of Gyuri.
After exchanging a few words with the cleaning lady, aunt Harrer, who is
terrified by gossip of horrible crimes being committed in the streets,
Janos brings Tunde's suitcase and her message to Gyuri.
Intimidated by the threat of his wife moving back into the house, Gyuri
accepts the mission.
Once in the street, Janos tries to steer his uncle towards the square to see
the whale, but citizens immediately stop Gyuri and shout a long list of
grievances: the town is under threat because of no medicines, no electricity,
no telephone, no coal and the roads are closed. They paint of picture of chaos.
To Janos' disappointment, Gyuri does not find the time to visit the whale.
Janos returns alone to the square. A man confronts him as if he were a spy.
The show by the mysterious Prince has been canceled.
Hardly anyone listens to the announcement.
The men are simply assembling in large groups
around bonfires, but only Janos is paying attention to the giant container.
Janos returns the suitcase to Tunde. She lives with the
delirious drunken police chief. As Janos leaves, the chief is
brandishing a gun and playing revolutionary music.
Tunde, delighted, dances with him in the bedroom.
Janos is asked to put the chief's children to bed. They are
two rebellious children who have no intention of going to sleep.
In their messy bedroom they jump and make noise to
the music played in the other room.
Tunde also asks him to go on reconnaissance in the square and report back.
It is night again. There is an eerie torpor in the square.
Uncle Lajos is with the mob. One can hear very little of what the men are
whispering around the bonfires. They don't look threatening. They look aimless.
Janos sneaks into the container to take another look at the whale and
overhears an argument between the owner of the circus and the translator of the
Prince. The owner is refusing to allow the Prince to perform because he is
afraid of trouble. Janos can only see the shadow of the Prince and hear his
voice speaking in a foreign language. Through the translator, Prince threatens
the owner: the owner invented him, but now Prince has a widespread following
and they dedand to see him.
The Prince is determined to destroy the town and cannot be stopped.
The circus' owner says he wants to have nothing to do with it.
Janos, having now evidence of a conspiracy against the town, runs frantically
back in the dark, but the town is already set on fire
by explosions. Janos can hear the loud roar of the mob, suddenly awake.
The huge crowd marches silently for several minutes, behaving like they have
a clear destination but no particular anger (or any other emotion).
They enter a hospital, where they beat up helpless patients,
and destroy equipment, all without uttering a single word (nor do the
patients scream). Eventually
two of the attackers pull down a curtain and discover a bathtub in which a
naked skinny old man is standing up and looking down ashamed. All the men
simultaneously stop the violence and quietly exit the building, a disciplined
procession of zombies that is the exact opposite of what was going on.
Behind a wall Janos has been watching terrified, his gaze transfixed.
It is now morning. If this is all reality, Janos has not slept in two days.
Janos is reading about the mob attack in a discarded notebook sitting in what appears to
be a looted warehouse.
Janos walks out and sees Tunde escorted by soldiers. She is cooperating
with them to restore order.
On the way back home, Janos finds the dead body of his uncle Lajos, who
had taken part in the riot.
At home Lajos' wife asks Janos about Lajos and Janos pretends he has not seen
him since the night before. The woman tells him that the soldiers were there
looking for him, and predicts that he will be hanged too with the rest of the
mob because the soldiers will simply punish everybody to restore order. She
advises him to flee while it is still possible.
Janos leaves town and runs along the railway.
He stops to stare at a helicopter hovering over the countryside.
The helicopter lands and presumably arrests him.
Gyuri visits Janos in what appears to be a madhouse. Guyri tells him that
Tunde and the police chief have taken over his nice house, but he promises
to take care of Janos when he is released. Janos does not give any sign of
understanding what is being said.
Gyuri leaves and walks to the square. There is nobody around.
The container has been broken into and the whale lies on the floor of the
Gyuri, who has so far refused to visit the talk of the town, finally approaches
it and stares at its giant, expression-less eye.
He then walks away, turning one more time to look at the ruins.
The mist is rising.
The Man From London (2007) is adapted from a Georges Simenon novel.
A Torinoi Lo/ The Turin Horse (2011) is a slow, simple, bare meditation
that explores the inner apocalypse. Virtually nothing happens. Life is as
meaningless as it can be. And slowly the motivation to be alive dissipates
in the wind.
Once the German philosopher Nietzsche, while in Turin, defended a horse from
its ruthless driver.
A long sequence follows a horse tied to a cart as it rides in the countryside
during a windstorm. For a while we only hear chamber music before
the sounds of the cart and the hooves emerge.
The old man eventually dismounts, and drags the horse to a humble isolated
house, where a
girl helps him to store cart and animal in the stable.
The wind is picking up. Then they enter the house and she helps him
to change clothes. He takes a nap while she cooks.
They are both expressionless. She moves around the desolate house like a zombie.
When supper is ready, she wakes him up. They eat without exchanging a single
The only continuous sound is the whisper of the wind from outside.
In the morning the young girl helps the old man get dressed.
Their life consists of tedious repetitive actions.
They wear their coats and walk to the stable, pull out the cart and attach the
horse. The wind is still strong. The horse refuses to move.
THey go back inside. He works a bit on his tools. She cooks.
They eat their meager meals.
Then they just stand still listening to the wind.
A neighbor knocks at the door: he ran out of brandy. While she pours him some
brandy, he sits at the table and delivers a lengthy soliloquy staring the old
man in the yes, a paranoid allegorical speech that seems to stem from a
cosmic atheistic vision but is utterly incomprehensible.
He pays for his bottle and leaves.
Life goes on, captured in painfully realistic documentary-style fashion.
The girl gets water from a well. They clean the stables.
The horse stopped eating.
In the distance they see a cart carrying several people through the dust lifted
by the wind.
The old man is hostile. The strangers stop near their well, making a lot of
noise. The girl tells them to leave. The old man comes out with an axe to
threaten them. They pay for the water and leave, as noisy and vulgar as before,
promising to come back.
The storm is still raging. The girl reads (slowly) from a thick book (that
obviously will take her forever to finish).
The well is dry: there is no water anymore.
The horse still refuses to eat or drink.
The old man decides that they have to leave the house and tells her to pack
the essentials. The girl pulls the cart full of their poor belongins
and they attach the horse to the back. They move to another house. After
they finish moving in, she stares at the storm from the window.
Later the old man, instead, stands in front of the window with his head bent,
as if praying. The camera slowly reveals the girl who is sewing at the opposite
side of the room. After a quick meal, the old man returns to the window
and this time seems to stare outside, but obviously absorbed in his own
Suddenly it is dark, very dark. Now they sit at the dinner table in the dark
without talking and without staring at each other. They don't touch the
food in their plates: they too have lost their appetite for food.