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32 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

Village of the Damned

Author: MacAindrais from Canada
15 January 2008

Damnation (1988) ****

Although he made a number of feature films previous to Damnation, this is where Bela Tarr found his trademark style. It was also his first collaboration with novelist and country man Laszlo Krasznahorkai; a collaboration which continues to this day.

The film opens with now trademark Tarr style, watching mining carts travel along with their loads for a few minutes (yes minutes). The camera slowly pulls back to reveal Karrer (Miklós Székely) shaving. He's a lonely loser, slowly drinking himself to death at the Titanik Bar. He is in love with and sleeping with the lounge singer there (Vali Kerekes). The problem, however, is that she is married, and has made no secret of wanting to end their affair. That when he asks her why she doesn't love him, and she replies "I love you and you know it," is of no real matter to her.

Karrer is offered a smuggling job by the bar's shady owner. He decides to offer the job to the singer's husband, who has built up a substantial debt and is in danger of being imprisoned for it. He accepts, and Karrer wins himself three days to swoon the singer. She denies him, nevertheless sleeping with him in perhaps the least passionate sex scene ever filmed. A bitter Karrer decides he will turn in to the authorities her husband when he returns from his smuggling job, leaving her alone and thus making him now the logical option. By the end, the lives of Damnation's characters will be as broken and desolate as the crumbling town in which they live.

Damnation plays as love triangle, grounded out over nearly two hours. Tarr's long shots and elegantly bleak black and white photography follows ever so slowly the action. The lighting is impeccable, creating ghostly silhouettes, dusty and dim barrooms, and elegant and shimmering light bouncing of the face and hair of the lounge singer. As characteristic of Bela Tarr, the cinematography is stately and assured, breathtaking and deliberate. He films his characters and their town as assuredly and respectfully as possible. The town, and the dogs which walk its streets, hint at the apocalyptic undertones of the film, and transcends all emotions, or lack there of.

I have had reservations about Damnation in the past, confident that it was film-making at its very best, sublimely atmospheric and tonal, but unsure whether or not just how well it worked, particularly in relation to Tarr's two formidable masterpieces, Satantango and Werckmeister Harmonies. Those films have something mammoth and intimidating about them: Satantango, with its titanic length, clocking in at over 7 hours, all in the same style and minimal narrative; Werckmeister Harmonies with its bizarre metaphysical underpinnings and suggestive philosophy. Those films have a ground out dreamlike – or perhaps nightmarish – quality to them, particular Werckmeister Harmonies. After my fourth of fifth viewing of Damnation, I'm now assured that it does in fact work – particularly when you avoid getting hung up on Tarr's other films. I'm also assured of its greatness. Damnation is a masterpiece of film-making. It draws parallels with the Italian realist films of the 50s and early 60s, as well as the minimalist transcendentalism of the films of Robert Bresson, but all the while invoking a dreamlike quality that keeps the viewer removed at just the right distance for a gritty but transcendent experience.

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28 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Author: atyson from UK
22 January 2007

An exceptionally brilliant movie. But this is not for everyone. Beautifully shot in black and white, the director bravely specialises in spectacularly lengthy shots which the viewer's brain will either become absorbed by or reject for tedium. An interesting dimension which can heighten involvement in these long shots (or annoy the hell out the unconvinced) is rhythmical sound - be it cranky machinery (like the relentless mechanical pulley system outside the 'central' character's window) or people dancing to cabaret music. There is a detachment to the camera-work, particularly in the dance band sequences, which reminded me of Kubrick. Again this is an approach which will alienate many viewers but it lends a kind of philosophical power what would otherwise be mundane documentary social observation.

I watched this after the more recent Werckmeister Harmonies on the current double-disc DVD edition available in the UK which is a superb issue and has an interview with the Director as a bonus feature. Interesting to note that he states quite categorically that he intends no allegorical/symbolic element to his work.

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31 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

Unified Field of Mud Theory

Author: dannyell from London
16 March 2001

Hey! Crazy movie! Oh Gaad it was so boring and depressing! Actually I felt quite privileged to have watched this film. Some people are NOT making films with the intention of being popular, and Bela Tarr is one of them. Satantango is 7 and a quarter hours long, and this one stretches an existential eternity across its 2 hours, bringing us 2 hours closer to death but hopefully nearer to life.

I was looking for symbolic significance from the first achingly long shot, but we were lucky enough to have Tarr interviewed in the cinema afterwards. He scuppered any suggestion of symbolism in his films, insisting that the fact of pointing a camera lens only at things that exist means that metaphysics and allegory are impossible in film. More than a hint of his totalitarian background in his didactic description of his work.

I felt like I had learned something from this film. I thought it showed how life in Hungary can be depressing, a struggle, apparently hopeless, but that the hopelessness only really comes from inside the person. A desperate, selfish man lurks around the drab industrial landscape, fixated on his one motivation, the woman who is his object of desire. He hatches a plan to get rid of her husband. Afterwards the director stated explicitly that the plot is deliberately simple and even banal - the main character delivers one monologue about how all stories dissipate and all heroes dissipate and die away. He stated that the dogs and the rain which both haunt the film are characters and have stories as much as the people.

If you get the chance, go and watch it. It's a proper work of art, there's nothing wrong with it!!!!!!!!!!!

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20 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Very impressive

Author: saladin-8 from Brooklyn, NY
22 November 2005

The film is about immobility. About people who abandoned themselves to a collective sinking, and dances. The camera travels slowly along the last days before apocalypse.

The photography is excellent. And the music also helps to forget the length of some scenes. Those who liked Tarkovski's films shouldn't be deluded.

The text is powerful, with its dose of irony. Unfortunately I couldn't understand everything. Some monologues seemed to be a nonsense, which may be something normal in this apocalyptic context. Anyway, I hope I'll be able one day to find some transcription; this film deserves to be studied.

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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Kárhozat: Entrancing, Mysterious, and Inspiring

Author: Baron Ronan Doyle ( from Ireland
30 March 2010

The film that launched director Béla Tarr into international attention, Kárhozat is the Hungarian's first major investigation of the nature of humanity.

Trailing the exploits of alcoholic depressive Karrer, Kárhozat presents us with a view of a desolate and decrepit Hungarian town. He spends his days wandering from bar to bar, obsessing over a married lounge singer and part-time lover whom he longs to elope with. Passing off a job to collect a package to the husband, he buys himself three days alone with the object of his desires.

As is now his trademark, Tarr brings us the minimal number of shots: slow, winding, thoughtful and beautiful. His approach is simultaneously simple and complicated, showing us at the same time nothing and everything. The aesthetic of the film is astounding, beauty created wonderfully in the chaos and destruction of the landscape. The brooding intensity of the omnipresent coal trains dominates the work, an indicator of lost industry and decline. Miklós Székely leads the cast with the perfect stoic facade, his granite face holding back the weight of an emotional past and the crippling need for escape. The sinister and critical bartender gives us Karrer's true opinion of himself, one he would rather not face up to, whilst the sagacious old woman provides the film's sensibility and reason. The plot itself is not so important as the camera's journey and the character's silent ruminations, leading unavoidably to a wonderful climax and one which does exactly what it should: causes us to question our own lives and the oddity of humankind.

With beautiful, paced, unconventional direction, Tarr gives us an intimate portrait of ourselves and our world. Achieving an incredible amount with a minimalistic approach, the film is entrancing, mysterious, and inspiring. Telling us as much with his landscapes as with his characters, Tarr's Kárhozat is a testament to the brilliance of this creative juggernaut.

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16 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

Not Everyone's Cup of Tea, But...

Author: paul-hellyer from New Zealand
23 April 2007

Yes, this is not for every movie goer. But it rewards those who love the art of film making. Very stylized, yes, but directed by someone who has chosen film as his medium for expresses and articulating a world view that is bleak, atheistic and unforgiving. You may not "like" this film: but as an antidote to all that is superficial, crass and commercial it is terrific. To some, it is intellectual masturbation: to those who see film as an art form, a movie to be admired, debated and savored. It will be seen by fewer than those who enter any "Blockbuster" video store on any given day- but, God help me, I would rather see this film than any other at that store.

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11 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Life on a dark planet

Author: Hindinwood from United States
3 April 2008

Damnation was one of those rare instances when I felt both frustrated and fascinated by the film I was watching. Bela Tarr is SO adept at creating mood that the light sketches of plot began to feel superfluous, and I found myself wanting to brush them away and just float in this surreal sludge without trying to follow a 'story'. Tarr's use of sound design and music to create tension and a dream-like state come closer to David Lynch's than anything else I've seen. The original (I'm assuming) songs in the film also share that distinctive quality of mimicking a certain genre of familiar music, while having something that's a bit off about them - much like Badalamenti's scores. Interesting to note that Blue Velvet was released two years prior. The slowly gliding camera, which seems to have almost it's own agenda aside from the film ads to the purveying sensation of unease, and the exquisite lighting and black and white tones are breathtakingly stark. There are moments in the film when there is so much going on in the scene, and the shot is so lengthy, that the situation itself becomes real and transcends the fiction of the film. This is a very rare phenomenon in film, and was absolutely spellbinding - especially the dance scene. The middle of the film gets heavy with bleak philosophical exchanges, which would be better illustrated than told - especially with Tarr's incredible gift for mis en scene and sound design. Iconographic sequences like the slow pan past the miserable crowds waiting for the rain to stop, or the reoccurring pack of wild dogs speak volumes more of Tarr's theme than the most eloquent words. The characters are like automatons shuffling about in a purgatory from which there is no escape. It is as though the entire world was a flea-bag apartment building, a tattered old bar, and a vast field of mud and debris which one must traverse between the two.

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18 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

How to use light in film

Author: Haim Litani ( from London
7 October 2004

The film demonstrates in the most eloquent manner how much colour one can

be found on black and white film emulsion. Béla Tarr and Gábor Medvigy his

cinematographer, tell the simple story in a sequence of very long shots, that are seemingly very realistic. The apparent realism in the film is spread into thin layers of detailed information in the composition of each frame, and add up to a full cinematic view on reality. Each shot tells a story, that relates not only to the characters and the plot, but mainly correspond with thoughts and ideas of a

different plot – the visual plot. The visual delivery of the plot, so it seems, is more important then the plot itself. In one shot we can see a wide lens close up, lit with meticulous attention to every hair lock on the actress' head, develop into a panning shot of a crowd in the foreground and the hero in the background (in focus!), when each of the

events is lit in a different way so the audience would be able to tell the hero from the crowd, and each character is lit to his personal lighting theme. Gábor

Medvigy uses light like Ennio Morricone uses music.

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8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Village of the Damned

Author: tieman64 from United Kingdom
19 November 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"It's not social, it's not ontologial, it's cosmical, the s**t is cosmical!" - Tarr

The world is hell and we're all damned, mourns Bela Tarr in "Damnation", a supremely bleak film. Bouncing from irredeemable gloom to relentless despair and finally defeat, the film paints a landscape of decaying homes, perpetual thunderstorms and dog infested streets. It's characters, meanwhile, spend all their time drinking booze and dancing listlessly at local nightclubs. They seek escape and solace, but both are temporary at best, illusions at worst. There's no running from the black.

The film's key motif is a series of cable cars which run above the town, forever extracting coal from Tarr's dying mining community. Underneath this conveyor belt, this ribbon of constant motion, humanity remains immobilised, its life force slowly sucked away. While the world revolves, humanity remains in inky stasis, Tarr's characters both tethered painfully to the past and crippled by an unknowable future; tormented by memories and regrets, but scared of hoping. Nothing survives, Tarr says, you're dying the moment you're born. Why hope?

Within this sickeningly bleak world lives a man called Karrer, a balding figure who navigates earth with a death mask. He wishes all children would die, if only to end the suffering that is the human race. The only joy he finds is in the presence of a woman, a local night club singer, but we sense that his love for her is itself selfish. She seeks to escape this hell, skipping town to become a famous singer elsewhere, but he can't have that. If she escapes then it places the blame of immobility on him. Better to keep her here, anchored, in the darkness, suffocated.

Karrer's hope, then, is to reaffirm hopelessness. Indeed, nothing scares him more than children, with their bright eyes and cute faces, "because they swindle mankind into going on with this charade and condemn us all to an eternity of horror." For Karrer, who like everyone in the film speaks with apocalyptic aphorisms, existence itself should be rejected.

The film ends with Karrer selling his soul to the authorities, before stepping back out into the rain. He picks a fight with a dog – he is one of them now – before disappearing behind a mound of dung. He's trapped, dead, his body already festering...whilst high above the village the cable cars continue their slow crawl, further and further into the air, always moving, a ticker tape to nowhere.

8.5/10 – "Damnation" contains 3 excellent, powerful scenes, but its glacial pace will irk most viewers (increase the frame-rate on your DVD player). Kicked out of his university philosophy class for being too "extreme", Tarr quickly blossomed into the most suicide inducing film-maker since Antonioni. Though few have seen his films, he's been a huge influence on late career Gus Van Sant and Steven Soderbergh. His arty black and white cinematography lures us into a world of extremely long takes and extremely slow pans, the viewer beaten into submission by an aesthetic of inaction. Makes a good companion piece to "Red Desert ". Worth two viewings.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Don't forget the humour

Author: ( from United Kingdom
25 January 2013

I watch Bela Tarr's films over again with endless fascination. The length is not a problem: No longer that many pieces of music. If you can concentrate through a Wagner opera and I hope you can, then a Tarr film is not very long. All the films are very much products of team work but lead by an autocratic man who knows exactly what he wants, hence the seam free quality of the experience, It is that, rather than the length which requires the concentration. I have not found it mentioned often enough but there is much humour in his films, Karrer does a reprise of Gene Kelly, which is then itself parodied near the end of the film. Damnation is maybe still my favourite, I suppose for the mesmerising way sound is used to structure a complex web of association, but then all of the available late films has so much to offer

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