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January 12 - 17

Melancholy Resistance:
The Rainy Worlds of László Krasznahorkai and Béla Tarr

It is a testament to the power and originality of the films of Hungarian director Béla Tarr that their critical acclaim and legendary reputation far exceed their availability. Screened at prestigious international film festivals and the subject of US retrospectives as early as 1996, the majority of Tarr’s films remain undistributed in this country. Little seen but energetically celebrated, they have been championed by Susan Sontag, whose 1995 lament on the death of cinephilia is tempered by the hope that Tarr—and a select group of other contemporary filmmakers— would be able to continue creating unique, transformative cinematic experiences. Since Sontag’s essay, Tarr has completed Werckmeister Harmonies, his third collaboration with Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai. Damnation and Sátántangó, presented here in prints on loan from Hungary, round out the trilogy. These three films represent the striking vision of a director many believe to be the most important living Eastern European filmmaker, the astonishing conjuring of an artist Jonathan Rosenbaum calls a master illusionist. Elaborately staged and intricately orchestrated, Tarr’s worlds are inhabited by isolated communities and characters poetically depicted in long takes and slow camera movements that express a sense of time and place—as well as identification with character—that is inimitably cinematic. Bleak, mysterious, and not without a certain gallows humor, Tarr’s cinema compels our attention. Even as constant rainfall and the seemingly inevitable paths to violence horrify us, Tarr’s camera, seeking order and resisting the chaos it encounters, achieves unforgettable magic and grace.

Special thanks to Adam Sekuler (Northwest Film Forum), Dylan Skolnick (Cinema Arts Centre), Katalin Vajda (Magyar Filmunio), Neil Friedman (Menemsha Films), Patrick Ogle (Facets Multi-Media), and Chris Stults (Wexner Center for the Arts).

January 12 (Friday) 6:30 pm
January 17 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

Damnation (Kárhozat)

Directed by Béla Tarr
Hungary 1988, 35mm, b/w, 116 min.
With Gábor Balogh, György Cserhalmi, Péter Breznyik Berg
Hungarian with English subtitles

A reclusive loner yearns for a married cabaret singer working at the local Titanic Bar and manages to temporarily remove her husband from the picture so he can pursue his obsession. Damnation’s endless rain and aura of despair, its stray dogs and dilapidated mining town, recall Tarkovsky while its rumination on solitude and misery— portrayed at the inexorably glacial pace of existential anomie—announce Tarr’s singular directorial voice. “The near miracle is that something so compulsively watchable can be made out of a setting and society that seem so depressive and petrified” (Jonathan Rosenbaum).

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January 12 (Friday) 8:45 pm
January 17 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm

Werckmeister Harmonies (Werckmeister harmóniák)

Directed by Béla Tarr
Hungary 2000, 35mm, b/w, 145 min.
With Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla
Hungarian with English subtitles

In a remote town over which the dread of coming apocalypse hovers, a traveling circus appears. Its main attraction is a stuffed whale carcass accompanied by a Prince who foments the already incendiary stirrings of civil unrest. Among the most mysterious villagers is postman Valuska, who organizes patrons in a bar into a demonstration of the orderly rotations of the planets and later witnesses a violent mob’s attack on a dilapidated hospital. Although dark and devastating, the film may also offer a kind of hope: in its “sensuous black and whites” and the “stately, calculated movements” of its camerawork Werkmeister Harmonies suggests “that intelligence and balance are not completely absent from this world” (Fred Camper).

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January 13 (Saturday) 2 pm
January 14 (Sunday) 2 pm


Directed by Béla Tarr
Hungary 1994, 35mm, b/w, 450 min.
With Mihály Vig, Putyi Horváth, László Lugossy
Hungarian with English subtitles

Taking its structural cues from the form of the tango, Tarr’s epic
masterpiece visualizes the devil’s dance in circling camera movements and long takes reminiscent of countryman Miklós Jancsó. Considered one of the most important and remarkable films of the past few decades, it neverthless remains little seen, and this extraordinary experience of viewing the film in its seven and a half hour entirety is not to be missed. From its riveting opening shot, which follows a herd of cows wandering and mating its way through a village, to its hour long study of an aging doctor’s (German writer Peter Berling) drunken trek to the pub to refill his flask, Sátántangó is “sarcastic to the core;” its story of a group of farmers on a failing collective who await the arrival of a Messiah “demands to be read as a kind of interim report on where humanity seems to be lodged—in a quagmire of cowardice, betrayal, selfdelusion, alcoholism, and deceit” (Rosenbaum).

“Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I'd be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life” (Susan Sontag).

There will be two intermissions during which refreshments will be available. A special admission Sátántangó pass can be used to attend either Saturday or Sunday presentations.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700