Friday, November 5, 2021

#2,657. Damnation (1988)



That is the word that continuously pops into my head as I sit here reflecting on director Bela Tarr’s 1988 black and white film Damnation. Yet there are aspects of the movie that are anything but beautiful.

Set in an unspecified Hungarian town - a working-class city littered with dingy bars and urban decay - the story that makes up Damnation (what there is of a story, anyway) centers on a lonely guy named Karrer (Miklós Székely B.), who has fallen in love with another man’s wife: a mournful lounge singer (Vali Kerekes) who performs nightly at the Titanik Bar, one of several that Karrer frequents on a regular basis. After arranging to get the singer’s husband (György Cserhalmi) out of town for a few days, Karrer makes his move.

From this simple premise, Tarr has crafted a singularly unique motion picture, one that utilizes long, uninterrupted shots which first establish a setting (a night club, a bedroom, a rain-soaked street, etc), then, by way of the meticulous manner in which Tarr moves his camera (and it is almost always in motion), takes us deeper into each scene to expose so much more (we often hear noises in the background, the source of which is only revealed when Tarr and his camera go searching).

The dialogue is introspective, designed not so much to further the story as to divulge each character’s state of mind (“I like the rain”, the singer tells Karrer at one point, “I like to watch the water run down the window. It calms me down. I don't think about anything. I just watch the rain”), and the dreary locales (the Titanik is dimly lit, and Karrer’s abode is situated next to a coal mine), coupled with the stark cinematography of Gábor Medvigy, set a melancholy tone that never lets up.

Damnation is, without question, an arthouse film, and it is a thoroughly engaging one.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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