After witnessing a crime during his night shift as railway switchman near the docks, a man finds a briefcase full of money. While he and his family step up their living standards, others start looking for the disappeared case.
A large, claustrophobic apartment is the setting for this intense chamber drama. In this dense setting, the inhabitants of the apartment reveal their darkest secrets, fears, obsessions and hostilities.
Miklós B. Székely
Plotting on a payment they are about to receive, residents of a collapsing collective farm see their plans turn into desolation when they discover that Irimiás, a former co-worker who they thought was dead, is coming back to the village.
A young boy plays an accordion in a shopping mall. Béla Tarr picks up the camera one more time to shoot his very last scene. It is his anger about how refugees are treated in Europe, especially in Hungary.
"Kárhozat / Damnation" tells the story of Karrer (Miklos B. Szekely), a depressed man in love with a married woman (Vali Kerekes) who sings at the local bar, Titanik. The singer has broken off their affair, despite her profession of love for him. She wants to improve her life. She dreams of becoming famous, but she herself embodies all of Karrer's hopes and dreams. Karrer is offered smuggling work by Willarsky (Gyula Pauer), the bartender at Titanik. Despite his lack of other prospects, Karrer tries to haggle with Willarsky over his take. Karrer eventually decides to offer the job to the singer's husband, Sebastyen (Gyorgy Cserhalmi), who has fallen on hard times. This gets the husband out of the way for a while, but things don't go as Karrer plans with the singer. There's a big, drunken dance, which everyone in town attends (though one demented soul prefers to dance maniacally in the rain outside). Afterwards, one betrayal falls upon another, leaving Karrer in despair, alienated from...Written by
Ulf Kjell Gür
With "Kárhozat / Damnation", the first of his collaborations with novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Bela Tarr adopts a formally rigorous style, featuring long takes and slow tracking shots of the bleak landscape that surrounds the characters. See more »
In the Dance/Party scene, the band and the music are clearly out of sync. See more »
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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