Curiouser and curiouser. From the moment Betty and Rita leave the club, the narrative begins to fissure. Mulholland Drive flows from one situation to the next, one scene seeping into another like the decomposing corpse I've neglected to mention that's at the story's center. Characters dissolve. Settings deteriorate. Situations break down and reconstitute themselves, sometimes as fantasy, sometimes as a moviewhich is to say, much of what has previously happened, happens again, only differently. Love is now a performance. Rita reverts to femme fatality. The parental demons return.
Betty's dream becomes a nightmareor perhaps the previous story was itself only a dream. Not that it matters. Mulholland Drive is thrilling and ludicrous. The movie feels entirely instinctual. The rest is silencio.
The Films Of Béla Tarr: Tango, Hungarian Style
Museum of Modern Art
October 5 through 15
Béla Tarrheir to the state-subsidized vanguard of Miklós Jancsó and Andre Tarkovsky and subject of a full retro opening Friday at MOMAis known here largely for his seven-hour magnum opus, Sátántangó, a bleakly comic allegory of social disintegration on the muddy vacuum of the central plain Hungarians call the puszta.
Recognized as a landmark from its first screenings at the 1994 Berlin Film Festival, Sátántangó is a characteristically East European tale of charismatic swindlers casting their spell on hapless peasants. Indeed, Tarr's hypnotic film (taken from a novel by modernist Laszlo Krasznahorkai) constructs somewhat the same relationship with its viewers. A movie in which emptiness becomes amazingly rich, textured, and visceral, Sátántangó is a multiple tour de forcefor the actors, as the camera circles them in the lengthy continuous takes that Tarr adapts from Jancsó, and for Tarr, who constructs his narrative out of these morose blocks of real time. The final shot, in which one character boards up his window, provides a superbly materialist fade-out.
More experiential than narrative, Sátántangó has fewer shots than the average 90-minute feature, and two hour-long chunks of it would be remarkable movies in their own right. In one, a fat, drunken doctor spies on his neighbors, runs out of booze, and is forced to make an epic trek through torrential rain to get another bottle; in another, a 10-year-old girl poisons a cat and then herself. The titular performance is a remarkable composition in repetitive ranting, drunken strutting, and befuddled dancing to the same mind-breaking musical loop. After everyone collapses, the accordionist finishes all their drinks and pukes (offscreen). Not until halfway through the movie is it apparent that much of the action is unfolding simultaneously.
Sátántangó is a masterpiece of visionary miserablism, but then Tarr originally burst on the Hungarian film scene, a 22-year-old enfant terrible, with his 1978 Family Nesta relentless, Cassavetes-style kitchen-sink drama in which three generations of workers (non-actors all) and a blasting TV set are crammed together in a Budapest apartment. The naturalistically incessant squabbling is artfully orchestrated and shot through with a distinctive dark humor. Tarr followed up with the similarly claustrophobic prole operas, The Outsider (1981) and Prefab People (1982). His style then shifted with the stridently punk pyrotechnics of Almanac of Fall (1985), a kammerspielthat seemed at the time to be a misguidedly tarted-up version of his gritty domestic dramas. For me, Tarr's breakthrough was the voluptuously entropic Damnation (1987), a majestic study of erotic betrayal in an industrial wasteland, which had a brief run at Anthology Film Archives in early 1990.
Damnation, a film whose rapt attention to landscape, fastidious creation of a climate, and immaculately sumptuous cinematography recalls Tarkovsky, was Tarr's first to be written with Krasznahorkai. Paradoxically, this ongoing collaboration has allowed for the primacy of the visual in Sátántangó and Tarr's latest, Werckmeister Harmonieswhich opens the MOMA retro. I'll review it when it begins a limited run at Anthology next week.
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