Autumn Almanac (1984)

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Fourth time with Bela Tarr after Turin HorseWerckmeister Harmonies and Damnation.

Considered the turning point in his career, the transition from his early less well-known social realist pieces to the distinctively stylised and philosophical stuff from the late 80s onwards. Notable in that regard because of the use of colour, which in fact reveals the beauty of his chiaroscuro style; here we have queasy RGB projections, theatrical but also Gilliamian. A neon blue kitchen resembles a morgue; hellish red highlights evoke the confines of a photographic darkroom or engine room. The apartment is hermetic, purgatorial – definitely Sartre’s No Exit and perhaps Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel. Its closest relative in the BT canon is definitely D, with the submerged desperation and wordy, crushed idealism.

People trapped and desperate. A mother who insists upon “a distance,” a buffer between herself and experience – “I don’t want to see the realities”. An embittered and spiteful son who quarrels with his mother over money, agency, ownership of the house. A coquettish but reclusive woman with no personal possessions, a leech like Wyndham Lewis’ Pringle. A despondent man with violent tendencies, played by the lead in D, Miklós B. Székely. And a pathetically downtrodden, drink-sodden teacher inflicted with a sense of futility and unpayable debts. They’re a dirty crowd; there’s little attempt to build any bridges of empathy, except perhaps with the tired mother and the pragmatic violent man. It’s hard to settle in to the monologic structure, extremely candid and almost improvisational closeups, and fetid nihilistic air.

But the hypnotic rhythm of BT films does kick in (in a way that reveals the kinship AA shares with the films that followed it), though the slowness exists at a scene rather than shot level. The monologues allow each character to question existence, reveal their personalities, and enact manipulations and machinations like chess pieces. Miklós has a good line: “everyone creates peace and quiet in their own image. … But there is only one kind.” The situation has to find its own level which may bear no resemblance to the desires of individual participants. This collective but also external direction suggests the human futility of BT’s later films, which is introduced here by the epigraph from Pushkin about the devil always calling the shots.

There are some memorable images like a fight shot from below through a glass floor and boots stomping around a cluttered floor; some of the scenes also stand out too, like the drunken teacher’s protracted late-night confrontation with the son, M’s admission of aggression at the piano, and the mother’s fitful and close reconciliation with her son. A lot of the content washed over me probably because I was exhausted – didn’t even finish it in one sitting; part two in the morning felt much crisper and more significant. Would probably merit another viewing but it’s definitely bleak enough to keep me away indefinitely.

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