Sunday, January 15, 2006

Autumn Almanac (Béla Tarr, 1985)

"Even if you kill me, I see no trace, this land is unknown, the devil is probably leading, going round and round in circles."

The above Pushkin quote opens Tarr's highly stylised and claustrophobic film, and it will start to reveal itself to the film's narrative slowly as the film progresses. The minimal plot revolves around an apartment that is inhabited by five residents, as distanced from any genuine intimacy as the film is distanced from the world outside the flat: Hedi, the middle-aged owner and her rebel son, Hedi's nurse and her lover (Miklós Székely B., who later appears in Tarr's Damnation and Sátántangó), and a destitute teacher. Throughout the course of the film, these five characters will, in various possible permutations, express their deepest fears and desires, before turning against each other in acts of emotional and physical violence. I'm only familair with Tarr's rigorously choroegraphed latter films (Damnation and following), but this must have been a transitional work. The theatrical presentation of extended two-way dialogue (frequently acerbic, and filmed in close-ups) recalls Bergman's chamber dramas, and even some Fassbinder (particularly, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant), but Tarr's mindboggling use of colour is what sets this film apart: characters in the foreground are bathed in shades of blue and yellow light, while the background may be covered in green. Not only does this stylistic device create a bizarre, otherworldly atmosphere, but this lends the characters a zombie-like quality that fits in with their wandering and 'soulless' existence. I'm at a loss to explain any other function which this device may serve.

Considering the filmmaker's pessimism over the Hungarian state of existence, political interpretations of the dysfunctional relationships in the film are never far away, especially when characters talk about their fear of existing in the worlds they inhabit. But in this case, it's difficult to say who Tarr's gaze is directed at, since much of their emotional exile is self-imposed, unlike the seemingly supernatural forces which seem to be at work in his later films. Also, despite its use of colour and unusual camera angles, Autumn Almanac bears elements that was to soon explode into the voluptuous form of a Sátántangó or a Werckmeister Harmonies: the liberated, graceful movement of the 'narrative' from character to character, the fluid long takes, the elegant choreography of the actors, and the dance scene that closes the film which will resurface in Damnation and Sátántangó as the unending dance of the aimless existence.

4 Comments:

Blogger girish said...

Mubarak, can I ask a stupid question?
What movie is your banner image from?
Can't seem to ID it.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Girish, that is not a stupid question at all coz I myself cannot recall this exact scene from the film! It is from Celine and Julie Go Boating though.

10:36 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks!

12:01 PM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Excellent post, Mubarak. I can't say more, really, since I haven't seen it, but to see a 'late Tarr' in color: whoa.

1:38 PM  

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