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Béla Tarr


Béla Tarr

Béla Tarr
Tarr at the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä, Finland (2012).
Born (1955-07-21) 21 July 1955
Pécs, Hungary
Years active 1971–2011
Spouse(s) Ágnes Hranitzky

Béla Tarr (born 21 July 1955) is an acclaimed Hungarian film director. Much of his work is marked by philosophical elements and a pessimistic view of humanity. His films utilize unconventional storytelling methods, such as long takes and/or non-professional actors to achieve realism.

Debuting with his film Family Nest in 1979, Tarr underwent a period of what he refers to as "social cinema", aimed at telling mundane stories about ordinary people, often in the style of cinema vérité. Over the next decade, the cinematography of Tarr's films gradually changed; Damnation (1988) was shot with languid camera movement aimed at establishing ambience. It marked Tarr's earliest experimentation with philosophical themes, focused mostly on bleak and desolate representations of reality. Sátántangó (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) continued this approach; both are considered by some critics to be among the greatest films ever made. Tarr would later compete in the 2007 Cannes Film Festival with his film The Man From London.

Frequent collaborators of Tarr include his wife Ágnes Hranitzky, novelist László Krasznahorkai, film composer Mihály Víg, cinematographer Fred Kelemen, and actress Erika Bók. After the release of his film The Turin Horse (2011), Tarr announced his definitive retirement from film direction. He has been teaching at the Sarajevo Film School since.


  • Life 1
  • Early work 2
  • Later work 3
  • Cine Foundation International 4
  • Influence 5
  • Filmography 6
    • Feature films 6.1
    • Television films 6.2
    • Short films 6.3
    • Documentary films 6.4
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Tarr was born in Pécs, but grew up in Budapest.[1] His parents were both in the theatre and film industry: his father designed scenery, while his mother worked as a prompter at a theatre for more than 50 years. At the age of 10, Tarr was taken to a casting session run by Hungarian National Television (MTV) by his mother, and he ultimately won the role of the protagonist's son in a TV drama adaptation of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Other than a small role in Miklós Jancsó's film Szörnyek évadja (Season of Monsters, 1986) and few one-glimpse cameos (such as in Gábor Bódy's Dog's Night Song [1983]), Tarr has sought no other acting roles. By his own account, initially he sought to become a philosopher, and considered film-making as something of a hobby. However, after making his 8mm short films, the Hungarian government would not allow Tarr to attend university so he instead chose to pursue film production.

Early work

Tarr began to realize his interest in film making at the age of 16 by making amateur films and later working as a caretaker at a national House for Culture and Recreation.[2] Most of his amateur works were documentaries, mostly about the life of workers or poor people in urban Hungary. His amateur work brought him to the attention of the Béla Balázs Studios (named in honor of the Hungarian cinema theorist who helped fund Tarr's 1977 feature debut, Családi tűzfészek, which Tarr began filming at age 22.)[2] He shot the film with little budget and using non-professional actors in six days. The film was faithful to the "Budapest school" or "documentarist" style popular at the time within Béla Balázs Studios, maintaining absolute social realism on screen. Critics found the film to suggest the influence of the American director John Cassavetes,[2][3] although Tarr denied having seen any of Cassavetes's films prior to shooting Családi tűzfészek, which was released in 1979.

After completing "Családi tűzfészek," Tarr began his studies in the Hungarian School of Theatrical and Cinematic Arts. The 1980 film Szabadgyalog (The Outsider) and the following year's Panelkapcsolat (The Prefab People) continued in much the same vein, with small changes in style. The latter was the first film by Tarr to feature professional actors in the leading roles. With a 1982 television adaptation of Macbeth, his work began to change dramatically. The film is composed of only two shots: the first shot (before the main title) is five minutes long, the second 67 minutes long.[2]

Later work

After 1984's Őszi almanach (Almanac of Fall), Tarr (who had written his first four features alone) began collaborating with Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai for 1988's Kárhozat (Damnation). A planned adaptation of Krasznahorkai's epic novel Sátántangó took over seven years to realize; the 415-minute film was finally released to international acclaim in 1994.[2] After this epic he released the 35-minute Journey on the Plain in 1995, but fell into silence until 2000's Werckmeister Harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies), occasionally shot under very intense circumstances. It was acclaimed by critics and the Festival circuit in general.

Many, if not most, of the shots in these later films are around six to eleven minutes long. It is possible that for some, a month was spent on a single shot. In many of these shots the camera swoops, glides, pans, and/or cranes. Often it circles the characters, and sometimes even spans multiple scenes. A shot may, as in the opening of Sátántangó, travel with a herd of cows around a village, or follow the nocturnal peregrinations of a drunkard who is forced to leave his house because he's run out of alcohol. Susan Sontag has championed Tarr as one of the saviors of the modern cinema, saying she would gladly watch Sátántangó once a year.

After Werckmeister Harmonies he began filming 2005 Cannes Film Festival in May, but production was postponed because of the February suicide of producer Humbert Balsan. Additionally, there were disputes with other producers regarding a possible change in the film's financing.[4] It premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival[5] and was released worldwide in 2008. Tarr then began working on a film called A torinói ló (The Turin Horse) which he has said will be his last.

For many years, none of his work was available on DVD (except in Japan), but Werckmeister Harmonies and Damnation have been made available on a two-disc DVD in Europe, courtesy of Artificial Eye (who have also issued The Man From London) and both films are now available in North America on separate DVDs from Facets Video. Tarr's early works; Family Nest, The Outsider, and The Prefab People are also available on DVD in the USA, courtesy of Facets. Facets was supposed to release Sátántangó on DVD on November 28, 2006, but was delayed until July 22, 2008. Artificial Eye released the film on November 14, 2006. A comparison of the two DVD editions has been posted at DVD Beaver.[6]

In September 2012, he received the BIAFF special award for lifetime achievement[7]

Cine Foundation International

In January 2011, Tarr joined the Board of Directors of the recently formed cinema foundation and NGO for human rights Cine Foundation International. In a press release dated January 24, 2011 Tarr made the following statement regarding the imprisonment of filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof:

Cinematography is an integral part of universal human culture! An attack against cinematography is desecrating universal human culture! This cannot be justified by any notion, ideology or religious conviction! Our friend, brother and esteemed colleague Jafar Panahi is in prison today, based on conjured and fictional accusations! Jafar did not do anything else than what is the duty of all of us; to talk honestly, fairly about our own country and loved ones, to show everything that surrounds us with tender tolerance and harsh austerity! Jafar’s real crime is that he did just that; gracefully, elegantly and with a roguish smile in his eyes! Jafar made us love his heroes, the people of Iran; he achieved that they have become members of our families! WE CANNOT LOSE HIM! This is our common responsibility, as despite all appearances we belong together.[8][9]


Gus Van Sant often cites Tarr as a huge influence on his later work,[10] beginning with Gerry when Van Sant began using very long uninterrupted takes.


Feature films

Television films

Short films

Documentary films


  1. ^ Adam Bingham (July 2011). Directory of World Cinema. Intellect Books. pp. 206–.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Ankeny, Jason. "Béla Tarr > Overview".  
  3. ^ Wilmington, Michael (May 10, 1996). "HUNGARIAN BELA TARR'S GENIUS ON VIEW DURING FACETS RETROSPECTIVE". Chicago Tribune. 
  4. ^ Gaydos, Steven; Hofmann, Katja (March 20, 2005). Man' overboard in Corsica"'". Variety. 
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Man from London". Retrieved 2009-12-20. 
  6. ^ "Satantango - Mihály Vig". Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  7. ^ "FESTIVALS: BIAFF Grand Prix award goes to In Darkness". 
  8. ^ Garage. "Bela Tarr Joins Cine Foundation International’s Board of Directors on Production Notes". Retrieved 2013-08-04. 
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ Jones, Jenny (March 17, 2008). "Gus Van Sant in the light of Béla Tarr". Retrieved 21 February 2011. I have been influenced by Béla Tarr’s films and after reviewing the last three works Damnation, Satantango, and Werckmeister Harmonies, I find myself attempting to rethink film grammar and the effect industry has had on it. 

External links

  • Béla Tarr at the Internet Movie Database
  • Béla Tarr on the Board of Directors for Cine Foundation International
  • Interview
  • Kinoeye Essay
  • Declaration of Solidarity for Béla Tarr, by Fred Kelemen, FIPRESCI website, March 2005, retrieved April 17, 2006
  • Berlinale 1994 Forum DocumentationSátántangóVajramedia Presents:
  • Tarr with His DFFB Film Students
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