Legendary Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr's intense, existential 1988 noir follows a depressed loner who can't let go of his former lover and struggles to find meaning in his bleak life. With gorgeous photography and haunting performances, this film … see full wiki
Bela Tarr’s 1988 film Damnation (Karhozat) should probably be called Stagnation or even Existential Feculation.
There is no appreciable plot to this movie, but I will try to explain what is there. Karrer (Miklos Szekely) stays still and stares and does a bit of spying on a car. When he speaks, which is fairly often but broken by huge amounts of slow camera pans showing nothing in particular, his speeches are hideously long and all about him. Raskolnikov is similar, but he does think about things beyond himself once or twice, not so with Karrer. It ends as it begins, with nothing in particular. This movie is a very good soporific, I see no other reason for it.
This is part of the blurb on the Netflix sleeve: “Notable for its stark black-and-white style, this haunting film noir was supposedly one of philosopher Susan Sontag’s favorite movies and helped confirm director Gela Tarr’s status as a master of Hungarian cinema.”
The film is more black than white, and that is as it should be given that the theme of the film is a existential angst movie set in a town with maybe 50 people in it and nothing to do but stand still; it is as if the whole town was made up of artist models because they could stand still or sit still for extremely long periods.
It isn’t haunting, it is boring. This is the most boring film I have ever seen. It was made 10 years after the iconic cult film Eraserhead which is anything but dull; it is darkly comic. The only emotion I had watching Damnation was a vague anticipation of ‘is anything ever going to happen?’ Nothing does. In my mind, a film noir movie needs to have a dark plot, not just be black and white. The noir idea isn’t just about filming shadows but motives. Damnation is a movie without motives.
About ninety percent of the film is very slow pans around rooms too shadowy to determine much of anything or of street scenes that contain a number of feral dogs running around In the rain doing about as much as the people, but at least moving. The remaining ten percent are a couple of people other than Karrer giving long speeches about nothing which is fine because no one really listens anyway since they are all not-busy being still.
I don’t mind existential stories or angst stories, but when nothing at all happens and the characters are impossible to know; then I see no reason to watch it. Take My Dinner with Andre a cult classic. The two characters do nothing but speak and not quite listen and Andre is having a bit of an existential crisis. The movie seems to take forever, but at least you can like or dislike the characters. It is difficult to dislike the characters in Damnation because there isn’t enough meat on them to matter, like an already chewed on buffalo wing.
I can think of nothing at all to recommend this film. Even the pretentious and poseur would have a difficult time allowing this movie into their contradictory lives.
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