Matthew’s review published on Letterboxd:
1988’s Damnation marked a turning point in Béla Tarr’s career, as he would permanently move to shooting in Black & White, and truly start to develop the aesthetic his reputation is built upon. An aspect of that reputation is his long takes, and Damnation commits to them more than his previous effort, Autumn Almanac. While the length of the shots in Damnation do not match the intensity of Tarr’s later work, they are meticulously framed into a cold, damp, and muddy atmosphere.
We follow Karrer, as he meanders through a desolate town, attempting to grasp something tangible. He finds that at the Titanik Bar, in the form of the bars singer (who is nameless in the film). She is a talented, beautiful, mysterious woman, who Karrer finds something in. Is it love? Perhaps, however, his infatuation may be on the basis of finding someone unique. Karrer lives in a place where everyone is the same. They’re all poor, they’re all just trying to get to tomorrow.
There are many scenes that feel pointless or lacking in substance, however, Tarr fills these aimless scenes with aimless people, making the viewer watch nothing of substance. However, there is no substance for Tarr to film in these scenes. The scenes are just people living. Not in luxury or bliss, but a drunken haze to numb the reality of their own existence.
It has been almost three years since I last saw Damnation, and when given the opportunity to watch it again, I questioned why I don’t return to Tarr’s films more? I proudly proclaim him as my all-time favorite filmmaker, his films dominate the top half of my favorites list, yet I don’t re-watch them monthly or even yearly. I think the reason why is due how much of an overwhelming emotional experience his films are for me. I found them at a lost point in my life and they helped me grow into who I am today, as well as influence what I want to do with my life and what I’m currently doing with it. As cringeworthy as it sounds, I feel like I owe something to this man. Without him and his films I’m not sure what I’d be doing and I doubt I’d be as happy as I am now. Damnation is a film that reminds me we’re all trying so desperately to just get to tomorrow.