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EYE Filmmuseum opens the first ever exhibition by the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr
Béla Tarr, Till the End of the World. EYE Filmmuseum. Photo: Studio Hans Wilschut.

by Jaap Guldemond

AMSTERDAM.- EYE is presentong the first ever exhibition by the Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr (Pécs, Hungary, 1955). Béla Tarr is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential film authors of the past three decades. He is the master of the long take, the master of wonderfully shot, languid, melancholic films about the human condition. After making his international breakthrough with Damnation (1988), he enhanced his reputation and standing with the more than seven-hour Satantango (1994), Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) and The Turin Horse (2011).

Tarr considers The Turin Horse to be his very last film, the one in which he has said all he wanted to say as a filmmaker. For Tarr views filmmaking, not as a profession, but as an urgency. If there is no need to say something, better to remain silent. In recent years, however, Europe has been confronted by huge influxes of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and other countries in Africa. Tarr was moved by the way Europe – after an initially positive response – reacted by closing its borders. Europe simply stood by and watched as a humanitarian tragedy unfolded before its eyes. One of the first countries to close its borders was Béla Tarr’s native Hungary.

Anybody who is at all familiar with the work of Béla Tarr will not be surprised that these events provoked him into making a statement in this exhibition at EYE. Not so much a political statement, but more an appeal to humanity, to the people and politicians of Europe, to respect universal human values.

The work of Tarr reveals a sombre view of the world, in which people have little control of their own existence. The characters in his films feel abandoned by life. The films are chiefly set in dreary surroundings dominated by decay, disintegration and disinterest. An outsider sometimes appears, upsetting the established patterns within a small community. But Tarr also makes it clear that there can be no escape. Life remains as it is.

As one of the great masters of contemporary cinema, Tarr has carved out this bleak view of the world a body of work that is hypnotic in its sheer visual force. More than anyone else, he has the courage to trust the image. After Damnation (1988) he filmed in black and white only, or rather in shades of grey, using extreme long shots in which he lets the camera ‘explore’ spaces or landscapes very slowly. In combination with the almost total lack of a traditional story line, his style of filming reinforces the state of mind of his characters and the futility of existence. Even though Tarr has an unmistakeably sombre view of society, he shows great compassion for his characters by infusing the rain, the mud, the wind, the disintegration and the despair with a poetry that testi fies to his empathy.

For EYE, Tarr has made a filmic installation that is a cross between a film, a theatre decor and an installation. Tarr shares with us his anger with the help of ‘found footage’, images of war, fragments from his own films and props. The exhibition starts with a space that confronts visitors with the inhuman conditions from which migrants try to escape, and in which they find themselves after a long journey. War, bombings, poverty, hunger, oppression, fear and finally closed borders and local henchmen who strike fear into the migrants, rob them, and try to force them back. Visitors then enter the world of Tarr, populated by similar characters on the margins of society.

Tarr picked up his camera one more time specially for this exhibition and filmed an 11­minute shot as the ultimate epilogue to his work in film. In it, a small boy plays the accordion in an anonymous shopping centre. A look of dismay falls across the face of the boy, unsure as he is whether he can trust the world before him — a world that we viewers cannot see. With this, Tarr asks us: can we create a world we can believe in?

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