Béla Tarr, the Hungarian maestro born in 1955, will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) this year. Béla Tarr is the ultimate auteurist’s auteur, an artist who ascended from a cult director little known outside of his native Hungary to one of the most revered figures in world cinema today, all the while stoking an enflamed cinephilia among his growing legion of passionate followers.
Béla Tarr made his directorial debut with the film Family Nest in 1977. Tarr began his career with a brief period of what he refers to as “social cinema”, aimed at telling everyday stories about ordinary people, often in the style of cinema vérité. Over the next decade, he changed the cinematic style and thematic elements of his films. 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 competed at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival with his film The Man from London, which opened to equally widespread praise and criticism.
After the release of his film The Turin Horse in 2011, which made many year-end “best-of” critics’ lists, Tarr announced his retirement from feature-length film direction. In February 2013, he started a film school in Sarajevo, known as ‘film.factory’. He has since created an installation that features newly shot film sequences, presented in a 2017 Amsterdam exhibition called ‘Till the End of the World’. Béla Tarr is known for his exceptional philosophical and poetic takes on the human condition.
Despite their sense of dark menace, Tarr’s films are incomparably engaging and remarkably exhilarating to behold, their careful use of repetition seeming always about to crest and climax, creating a hypnotic suspension perfectly expressed in the serial soundtracks brilliantly designed by composer Mihály Vig. Fascinating for their ambiguity, Tarr’s films are legible as rich allegories for the collapse of Western civilization and the revenge of ravaged Nature. At the same time, the recurrent figures within them of men and women fighting with grim determination against an endless storm also offer poignant expressions of the paradoxical stubbornness, the strange insistence, of human desire and ambition.