Béla Tarr Retrospective: Damnation


In this groundbreaking collaboration with novelist László Krasznahorkai (the first of three), Béla Tarr manages to collapse an entire film—mood, meaning, plot, character, and all—into a single shot. An endless procession of ore containers clanks along a wire that stretches to the fog-chocked horizon. The shot recedes into a bedroom, settling eventually on a silhouette. Steam curls off the thin figure's violently cut features, and for a moment it seems as if we are looking at some kind of demon. The demon—or the damned one, as it seems—is Karrer (Miklós Székely B.), a man whose trench coat and tired stare seem torn from the pages of Chandler or Hammett. So too does Karrer's world, which revolves around a disintegrating cabaret appropriately called the Titanik and a host of characters that includes a shady barman with a haunting laugh and a sultry lounge singer, with whom Karrer is having an affair. However, these seemingly familiar noir riffs are obscure and misleading. As in Tarr's earlier films, plot is only a tease, and the notion that even the most catastrophic events could somehow deliver these lost souls from their custom-made hell is a darkly comic joke. However, for Karrer, even the normalcy of hell seems unattainable. Often seen waiting in the wings for some action to conclude in the distance, Karrer seems incapable of even taking his own role in this stolid quagmire. In fact, his first words—which break the trance cast by Tarr's astounding first shot—are "Let me in."

Walker Art Center, Friday at 7:30 p.m.