An innovationist. A revolutionist. A genius. Béla Tarr is known as these and so much more. This Hungarian film director has brought an unparalleled twist into the world of international films through his focus on deep psychological implications and methodical shooting practices. Critics and fans alike have highly appraised his prominent works, with “Damnation (1987)” and “Satantango (1994)” being the most popular ones. It's tough to describe Tarr's works in simple words; the complexity of his thought process might prove too much for the usual audience to comprehend. In the most recent Masterclass seminar held at International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) 2017, Béla Tarr offered a sneak peek into his unique mindset, and left important advices for aspiring filmmakers to follow.
Those unfamiliar with the work of Béla Tarr is definitely missing some must-watch films in their lives. His black-and-white films serve as an excellent reminder of the normal human condition existing in typical everyday environment. Yet, the way the story is presented brings about a very atypical approach from which the scenes can be viewed from. Mostly dubbed as “realist traditions”, Béla Tarr has created several masterpieces in his lifetime, all of which may seem similar at first glance. But closer observation will dictate that his works are anything but the same; the meaning and theme each movie portray are significantly different from the other. In fact, this was the first point that was brought up in the IFFR 2017 Masterclass. When asked why his style was so much different in “Damnation” than in his previous movies, the master director gave a very thought-provoking reply, “When you make a film you get new questions. But you can't answer the new question in the same way, because a new question requires a new answer.” He continuedby stating that, to get the new answer one must change their regular style, and aspire for something different.
Several questions regarding Béla Tarr's preference of pace were brought up. The interviewer even specifically stated that a Béla Tarr movie cannot be watched without patience. To this the master director agreed, and subsequently replied in a humorous tone, “When it comes to my movies, just watch the first six minutes. If you like it, you will stay. Otherwise, you won't.” According to him, patience is required to understand the minute details of any complex piece of work, be it film, art or book. His particular slow pace of direction is filled with concise attention to the significant aspects, such as the scenery. “The landscape of a movie is an element of utmost care. It explains where and how we are. I spent two years on deciding just one location for a movie. Of course, the time wasn't wasted since during those two years, I familiarized myself with the language, culture and the people of that region. This was absolutely necessary in building the diverse structure that I wanted.”
Judging the amount of strict precision Béla Tarr demands from his creations, one would obviously think that being an actor in a Béla Tarr movie would be a tough job. When asked about this, the answer was quite surprising. “I am hunting personalities all the time,” said the director with open-heartedness, “Of course I try to get personalities who are a bit similar to the needed characters. And that's why I don't care if that person is a professional actor or not.” He further contradicted everyone's expectations as he continued, “I just need a human being to create a normal human situation. I don't even give them an actual script. I just tell them the situation and say, “Don't play, just be”. I don't want an acted reaction from them. I want a natural reaction. Something that shows that they are in the situation in reality and not in a movie set.”
It has been known for quite some time that Béla Tarr would stop directing films and focus on teaching instead. When asked about his filmmaking institution, he said, “I wanted a totally different school, where students would come from everywhere. Different cultural background, history, religion, taste. Difference like that is beautiful. Learning from that difference is required in creating unique films.” He continued, “What I do in my school is not teach them, but lead them. I give them certain tasks and I lend them courage and motivation to accomplish those tasks. I focus on personal teaching and tell them that they are on the right track. I don't do lectures, I don't feel the need for them. I ask them what they want and I try to feel their problem. Sensibility is always important.” He then left a few advices for aspiring filmmakers, emphasizing on how one must explore their hidden desires in order to be a successful movie producer: “Film making doesn't have a 'right way'. There are no rules. You do it how you feel it. You are free and you do it in your own free way.” “My vision is to build an institution like a bar house, where older people can show their experience to newer people. The world is big, and you need to find yourself”: the words of the master director echoed in everyone's hearts as the masterclass soon drew to a close.
By Shams Rashid Tonmoy
Transcribed from "Masterclass with Béla Tarr" at the IFFR