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Béla Tarr – Till the End of the World

21 January through 7 May 2017

Béla Tarr is widely regarded as one of the most influential film authors of the past thirty years. He is a master of the magnificent long take, a master of wonderfully shot, melancholic films that express the human condition. For the exhibition at EYE, Tarr, who after his 2011 film The Turin Horse decided not to make any more films, has picked up the camera one more time to shoot his very last scene. It is his anger at attitudes towards refugees in Europe, and especially in Hungary, that drove him to make a poetic, philosophical and ultimately political statement.

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Specially for EYE, Tarr has developed an exhibition that is a cross between a film, a theatre set and an installation. In his films Tarr has always presented the downside of progress, the other side of the coin. It therefore comes as no surprise that he feels called upon to make a statement against the inhuman treatment of thousands of migrants who are trying to give their lives a dignity that – in Europe – is denied them.

Béla Tarr (Pécs, Hungary, 1955) made his mark internationally with Damnation (1988) and enhanced his reputation and standing with the more than seven-hour-long Satantango (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000). All three films can be considered a commentary on the vulnerability of human civilization. Unexpected, threatening developments seem to bring out the animal instincts in people and rapidly any sense of mutual solidarity in a closed community. These are sweeping, earthly films that portray mankind in his existential despair. However, an occasional glimpse of deliverance appears, when the drink flows, the orchestra plays and bar guests lose themselves in drunken merriment.

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At EYE, Tarr will draw on ‘found images’, images of war, fragments from his own films, props, and two new scenes specially filmed for the exhibition to articulate not only his sombre view of the world but also his compassion for those marginalized by society.

about béla tarr
Béla Tarr was sixteen when he started to make films, chiefly naturalistic and committed social dramas and documentaries. After his studies at the film academy in Budapest, he developed a distinctive and influential style. Since Damnation (1988), Tarr’s films have been characterized by long takes and little montage, mostly shot in breath-taking black and white. His characters live impoverished lives in a mood of dead-end despair in the desolate landscape of rural Hungary. Tarr presents his audience with an existence stripped of all trimmings and invites them to feel compassion. His way of working, in particular the exceptionally long shots, pushes the narrative into the background as it were. His later films are highly contemplative in character.

Tarr: “I still consider film not as show business, but as the seventh art. I have never been interested in stories because the story is forever the same. Just read the Old Testament; it’s all in there. We don’t need to tell any new stories, since we always end up telling the same old story.”

Tarr considers The Turin Horse to be a film about the end of the world and thus, at the same time, the end of his own filmography. He could not imagine ever making another film that was more pared down and heavier, more reduced to its essence, than The Turin Horse. Since then, Tarr has run a film school in Sarajevo. For the exhibition at EYE, however, he has once again picked up the camera to film two new scenes. His anger at attitudes to migrants among people in Europe, and particularly in Hungary, has compelled him to make a statement.

Style and substance are inextricably linked to each other in the work of Béla Tarr. His films present a sombre view of a world in which people have absolutely no grip on their existence and are forced to experience life passively. A life that, in Tarr’s films, is one of extreme despair on the margins of society. Feeling abandoned by life, the characters in his films have little or almost no hope. The films are chiefly set in dreary surroundings dominated by decay, disintegration and disinterest. But out of this situation, Tarr, one of the great masters of contemporary cinema, has composed a body of work that is hypnotic in its visual power. More than anyone else, Tarr has the courage to trust the image. After Damnation he filmed in black and white, or grey might be more accurate, and used extremely long shots in which he lets the camera ‘explore’ a space or landscape very slowly. Combined with the almost total absence of a traditional story line, this method of filming enhances the mood of his characters and their sense of despair with life. Despite his unmistakeably bleak view of society, Tarr shows great compassion for his characters by creating poetry out of the rain, mud, decay and despair.

Attention: this exhibition was on display from 21 January through 7 May 2017.

A Tale of Hidden Histories

Chia-Wei HSU, Drones, Frosted Bats and the Testimony of the Deceased, four-channel video installation, 3’40 ~ 8’40’’, 2017 © Chia-Wei HSU

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Attention: this exhibition has ended. View the current exhibition A Tale of Hidden Histories