Combustible Celluloid Review - Damnation (1988), László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr, Béla Tarr, Miklós B. Székely, Vali Kerekes, Gyula Pauer, György Cserhalmi, Hédi Temessy
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With: Miklós B. Székely, Vali Kerekes, Gyula Pauer, György Cserhalmi, Hédi Temessy
Written by: László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr
Directed by: Béla Tarr
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Hungarian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 120
Date: 10/20/1988

Damnation (1988)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bar None

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I haven't yet managed to see any of Bela Tarr's films made prior to this, but it is said that Damnation is the film on which he perfected his style. That style includes stark black-and-white cinematography, grim, hopeless settings, long takes, glacial camera moves, and mesmerizing compositions. Inside Damnation is a plot straight out of an old "B" noir, but it somehow becomes existential and pensive under Tarr's gaze. Protagonist Karrer (Miklos B. Szekely), with a perpetual 5 o'clock shadow, spends his days hanging out in bars and slowly drinking himself into a daze. An unnamed singer (Vali Kerekes), who warbles perhaps the most depressing song ever heard in a movie, catches his eye and they begin an affair. She's married, but Karrer has a plan. He tells her husband (György Cserhalmi) about a job that he, Karrer has already turned down, something involving smuggling. It requires the husband to be out of town for some time, so Karrer can put the moves on the singer. There's some lifeless sex, long scenes of dialogue, and scenes in which nothing seems to be happening, and yet we're hypnotized by the fact that something could happen. Tarr's work here feels utterly planned and locked-down, and yet it also feels stirringly limitless. After a six-year gap, Tarr's seven-and-a-half-hour masterpiece Sátántangó was next. Damnation was restored and re-released in 2020.

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