Damnation ★★★★½

Film reviews in 22 sentences (or less)
Today: Damnation

„Take it or leave it, this is what you're stuck with. You lose your words, yet you cannot go.“
(Vali Kerekes as "The Singer")

Hi everybody, what has to happen to somebody when, as an artist, when he simply changes his entire style from one work to the next and from then on never changes in any other way? Well, whatever it was that happened to Béla Tarr after his first works like Hotel Magnezit , thank God it happened, otherwise we would have had a few less masterpieces in the film world and it started with this incredible work here and funny enough, we saw this film after all his later works using the same style visually and narratively. With "Damnation", which has a solid place in our list Eastern European Films Ranked , the Hungarian director laid his foundation, as one of the most celebrated filmmakers in international cinema and launched into international attention, in four decades since the 80s, he has completed the one or the other masterpiece and retired at the top of his oeuvre. But what has he changed now, and what is it that makes his works so special from this turning point? To find the answers, it certainly takes more time and words than a small review on Letterboxd, but let us say that from this film onwards, probably no other filmmaker will be able to show the desolation and decay of rural life as relentlessly as it is, except he or she makes documentaries. The film itself has no noteworthy plot, at least none that is in the foreground, for us the brutalization and dehumanization of greed and envy is the center of his films. His characters, whether in this film or in Satantango , want what others have or at least don't allow others to have it, often - or always - the characters will be as broken, desolate and ugly as the environment they're living it, at the end of the film.

"Damnation" is in fact a story about a love triangle yet far away from anything that you know as this is just as "Werckmeister Harmonies" a dreamlike nightmarish quality and in a place that screams that love is an illusion and man is rotten. Tarr's genius lies in his creativity to create a certain mood with minimalistic effort and a sound design and music that is the personification of uncomfortable tension, all in all really reminiscent to David Lynch. Elegant black and white photography, a phenomenal lighting creating ghostly silhouettes as well as dim rooms, the most well known characteristic of Béla Tarr's works however is minimal number of shots. His style is both incredibly simple and complicated at the same time showing us so much in full length and at the same time so little of the world we're sucked in. His passion for minute-long shots without editing are the center of the narrative, through the pictures you immerse yourself in this desolate, depraved, dystopian world, you really can't say whether the film is settled in the present, in the past or even in an unpleasant future. Like the constant companion of the film, the rain washes away any sense of time, you no longer know how many days we have followed the protagonist in his aimless existence, you feel like under hypnos, just an unbelievable film experience.

For those who are new to the Hungarian director the lengthy shots are either a revelation something to be immediately absorbed or a reason to be annoyed and reject this and the following films. "Damnation" has a rythymn to it just like The Turin Horse , firstly the long takes with the recurring score, the detachment to isolated pictures and characters but than again spellbinding takes in which suddenly everything rattles in the screen like a dance scene where nearly every character is in the picture moving in his/her own flow, just like in "Satantango" (the names says it all) or "Werckmeister Harmonies". The plot is never the most important part and neither are the characters played by restrained nearly wooden faces, the cameras journey, and we, in the broadest sense as the camera, is the always leading center, setting the pace, answering the questions.

This is the epitome of naturalistic cinema, the actors, the settings, everything looks like the real world, only a very ugly part of it perfectly captured in one of the best scenes involving dogs that we've seen. Tarr opens up a window to an intimate place that is horrifyingly our world with unconventional direction and pace and highly philosophical exchanges even though the cinematography of the director speaks more clearly than the most eloquent of us could.

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