Bu­rying Ci­ne­ma

Art Press - - L’INTERVIEW -

The nine films made by Bé­la Tarr bet­ween 1979 and 2011 amount to one of the most po­wer­ful and in­fluen­tial bo­dies of work in contem­po­ra­ry ci­ne­ma. Jacques Ran­cière, who has writ­ten a book about the film­ma­ker, sees him as a ma­jor ar­tist of the “”af­ter-time” (1) that fol­lo­wed the fai­lure of the com­mu­nist pro­mise, whose long se­quence shots of­fer so­me­thing beyond the cycles of re­pe­ti­tion by the qua­li­ty of their at­ten­tion to the still in­tact be­lief in a bet­ter life. Tarr has pu­bli­cly sta­ted that his ninth film,

The Tu­rin Horse (2012), is his last. Em­ma­nuel Bur­deau spoke to him last fall when he was vi­si­ting ar­tist at Le Fres­noy Stu­dio des Arts Contem­po­rains.

Are you still re­sol­ved not to make ano­ther film? Ma­ny film­ma­kers in your po­si­tion have gone back on such po­si­tions.

I’m sti­cking to it. In fact, you were the first to know about my de­ci­sion to stop film­ma­king. It was in our in­ter­view for Ca­hiers du ci­né­ma, about The Man from Lon­don (2008), that I first made that an­noun­ce­ment: “One more mo­vie and them I stop.”

It was dif­fi­cult to be­lieve you, at the time.

I knew if I could make the mo­vie I wan­ted, it would be the last one. Af­ter Tu­rin Horse, I think I had said eve­ry­thing about life, about people, about eve­ry­thing. Film­ma­king is a kind of drug, I was ad­dic­ted, it’s hard to stop when you are a jun­ky. But I don’t want to re­peat my­self. That has ne­ver in­ter­es­ted me. I de­ve­lo­ped my style, or wha­te­ver you call it, step by step. Each film raises new ques­tions. Slow­ly I went up, up, up or down, down, down, doesn’t mat­ter how you say it. I could make other films, I’m al­ways get­ting of­fers: “Si­gn here and do what you want.” No, I’m not in­ter­es­ted. I still have the de­sire to do things, but sur­ely not a film.

With all that in mind, shoo­ting The Tu­rin Horse must have been a ve­ry par­ti­cu­lar ex­pe­rience.

When we made Tu­rin Horse, we were jo­king all the time about how it real­ly was the last film. The whole crew knew it was real­ly the end. I said to them that we had to put the ca­me­ra in the earth. For us it was

the fu­ne­ral of the ca­me­ra, the fu­ne­ral of film­ma­king. It was a strange shoot… Fif­ty days. The crew did not want to stop. And ve­ry com­pli­ca­ted, too, be­cause of the wea­ther. So­me­times the sun was shi­ning, which was not good for us, so­me­times snow fell. I had a real­ly good crew, we had wor­ked to­ge­ther for ma­ny years. For ins­tance, the dol­ly guy was al­ways the same. The wri­ter Lasz­lo (Krasz­na­hor­kai) was a key col­la­bo­ra­tor, too. Se­ve­ral of his no­vels be­came my films. My point of view and his were so­me­times the same, but we ne­ver tal­ked about art, on­ly about life. He ha­ted shoo­ting and I think he came on­ly once or twice.

What about you? Was that one rea­son why you wan­ted to stop? There are a lot more film­ma­kers than you’d think who hate shoo­ting, who pre­fer to write or edit. ?

I like it. Hey, eve­ry­thing is crea­ted on lo­ca­tion. The most im­por­tant thing is to see how the cha­rac­ters react to each other. So­me­times it’s hard, yes, be­cause we are cros­sing some bor­ders. We do long takes, so there is no­thing to do at the edi­ting table. So­me­times a shoot is hard, when you go beyond cer­tain li­mits. The main is­sue is, if you do a long take, you are ac­tual­ly edi­ting in the set, and in the ca­me­ra: you can start with a close up. Agnes (Hra­nitz­ky), who is the co-au­thor— well, of­fi­cial­ly she was the edi­tor, but she was on set, wat­ching eve­ry­thing on the mo­ni­tor, screa­ming with me so­me­times…

Going from first to last, how would you des­cribe the phases you went though film af­ter film?

Ho­nest­ly, I don’t know. There wasn’t any kind of so­phis­ti­ca­ted plan. On­ly the praxis.

You must get all kinds of re­quests…

People are al­ways of­fe­ring re­tros­pec­tives. I had one at the Lin­coln Cen­ter in 2012. I did not go there. I did not want to go and give my fin­ger­prints to a fat half-fas­cist guy at the air­port. If the Uni­ted States are afraid of my 62 ki­los and be­lieve I can des­troy the whole of ca­pi­ta­lism, they are ve­ry weak.

You are done with fic­tion, but could you make do­cu­men­ta­ries?

No I’m too ag­gres­sive for do­cu­men­ta­ries. But I was al­ways in­vol­ved in rea­li­ty. Rea­li­ty is the main shit.

What was your re­la­tion to ci­ne­ma in your ear­ly days, when you made Fa­mi­ly Nest? How did you learn to make films?

From life. Eve­ry­thing al­ways comes from life: si­tua­tions, how people treat a concrete si­tua­tion. I Page de gauche/ page left: « Le Tan­go de Sa­tan ». 1994. “Sa­tan’s Tan­go”

Ci-contre/ right: « Le nid fa­mi­lial ». 1979. “Fa­mi­ly Nest”

just wat­ched it and de­ci­ded to shoot it. Where do you put the ca­me­ra? This is a mo­ral de­ci­sion. This is all what I can give to the stu­dents. In 2013 I ope­ned the Film Fac­to­ry in Sa­ra­je­vo. I al­ways try to make stu­dents aware of this ques­tion. We have to res­pect and serve hu­man di­gni­ty. You can­not real­ly teach this, but may be you can help so­meone to de­ve­lop it. I made my first fea­ture, Fa­mi­ly Nest, be­fore film school. I was twen­ty-two, I did not want to knock on the door, to be po­lite, I wan­ted to kick the door and say fuck off. I lo­ved ci­ne­ma and what I saw at that time was fake, far from life or people. This was in 1977, al­rea­dy the end of the NewWaves of the Six­ties. Film lan­guage be­came in­dus­trial, eve­ry­thing was pre­dic­table. The Bé­la Balázs Stu­dio gave me five shoo­ting days, a 16 mm ca­me­ra, two lamps and one sound guy and that was all. I made Fa­mi­ly Nest with that. La­ter, I had a real­ly good pro­fes­sor, who saw I knew what to do and told me to go and shoot my se­cond film straight away. I shot two fea­tures while at film school. The Out­si­der (1981) and The Pre­fab People (1982). A pro­per film school should pro­tect the stu­dents from the ca­pi­ta­list sys­tem, give them the chance to shoot what they real­ly want, give them free­dom. This is what I do [in Sa­ra­je­vo]. I’m a men­tor. I try to un­ders­tand them, their vi­sions, their point of view. And I’m their fa­ther, their bro­ther… You need all your em­pa­thy to un­ders­tand what they have in their head. The Film Fac­to­ry is un­like any other school, though our concept is a lit­tle bit like the Bau­haus, mixing ex­pe­rien­ced guys and be­gin­ners. Tea­ching art is im­pos­sible, in my opi­nion. All you can do is give young people a chance to dis­co­ver life, the world, and react to it. I can be proud, be­cause of what we have

« Le che­val de Tu­rin ». 2011. “The Tu­rin Horse” done in three and a half years. But the pro­gram is ex­pen­sive and we don’t get sup­port from anyw­here, so the school is clo­sing. It may open again so­mew­here else. For me it’s a bit like a tra­ve­ling cir­cus. Stu­dents can be poi­so­ned by art. They be­lieve they’re ar­tists. I tell them no. To be an ar­tist is a kind of award, a prize, a de­co­ra­tion. You are a wor­ker. If your work touches people, then you can say you’re an ar­tist. It’s not your de­ci­sion. They have to go back to life, that’s the main is­sue—not on­ly eve­ry­day life, but life at eve­ry le­vel: na­ture, conflicts, so­cial ten­sions, eve­ry­thing.

What ci­ne­ma did you ad­mire when you star­ted out?

My god was Go­dard. Eve­ry­thing he did, po­li­ti­cal­ly, ar­tis­ti­cal­ly, the way he thought tou­ched me. I had the chance to meet him in Rot­ter­dam [film fes­ti­val] once, 1982 or 1983. I was ve­ry young and stu­pid. I wan­ted to know his se­cret. He had his ci­gar and said: “I don’t know, I don’t re­mem­ber.” I was di­sap­poin­ted then, but now I un­ders­tand what he was doing, he was re­fu­sing this ad­mi­ra­tion, be­cause it bo­red him. Now that I am my­self in a sort of le­gen­da­ry po­si­tion, I un­ders­tand him. There is no se­cret. One day I sho­wed the stu­dents Sa­tan’s Tan­go. It’s al­most eight hours with the in­ter­mis­sion. The next day we had a four-hour dis­cus­sion, I ex­plai­ned eve­ry­thing about each take, but I wouldn’t like to give them a sort of re­cipe. La­ter I dis­co­ve­red Fass­bin­der and Cas­sa­vetes. Don’t for­get, I grew up in a Com­mu­nist coun­try: ma­ny things I didn’t get to see un­til much la­ter. The big­gest “shock” was when I saw my first Ozu. I was al­rea­dy a film­ma­ker. The big­gest “shock” of my life was my first trip to Ja­pan. I was in­vi­ted there to show Al­ma­nac of Fall (1985). My guide was a 90 year-old pro­fes­sor. I saw a pic­ture at an ex­hi­bi­tion he took me too: eve­ry­thing was white, ex­cept two black points. He said to me: “As so­meone from a Wes­tern coun­try, I am sure that for you the real sto­ry is the two black points. For us, it’s the white.” I was al­rea­dy thin­king about Dam­na­tion (1988) at the time. This trip convin­ced me: okay, I can do what I want. No bor­der any­more. I have to lis­ten to the white. He had a lot of in­fluence onme, which of course you don’t see when you watch Dam­na­tion, but it’s there.

You­men­tio­ned Sa­tan’s Tan­go. How did you ma­nage to car­ry off such an ex­tra­or­di­na­ry pro­ject?

Four years, it took, for the whole pro­duc­tion. One year I was just tra­vel­ling up and down in the Hun­ga­rian low­land, the mo­dern half of the coun­try. I got to know it like the palm of my hand, each house. First of all we had the no­vel, I had read the ma­nus­cript. The au­thor [Lasz­lo Krasz­na­hor­kai ] trus­ted me to make a film. He sho­wed me the ori­gi­nal lo­ca­tions and the ori­gi­nal cha­rac­ters. It was to­tal­ly wrong for a film, no style, no­thing, the people were just ugly. It was his fan­ta­sy that crea­ted a uni­verse out of this no­thing. The rea­li­ty, in this case, wasn’t strong en­ough. I rea­li­zed I did not want to do an adap­ta­tion. An adap­ta­tion is a stu­pid thing. Film is one lan­guage, and li­te­ra­ture is ano­ther lan­guage. You can­not trans­late, you have to trans­form! Slow­ly, with all the dri­ving up and down and slee­ping in stu­pid ho­tels I be­gan to un­ders­tand what the wri­ter had done. I rea­li­zed it was no rea­son to write any script. We had the [twelve] chap­ters [of the no­vel] and we de­ci­ded to make like twelve short mo­vies. I hate scripts, we just wrote so­me­thing in one week—for the banks. I knew eve­ry film by heart, from the first frame to the last. Be­fore shoo­ting it. I ne­ver ope­ned these scripts af­ter­wards. The se­cond year we or­ga­ni­zed eve­ry­thing. The whole sto­ry is on­ly three days in au­tumn. I on­ly had a pho­to-ca­me­ra with me. Af­ter­wards I went back for my pho­to­gra­pher, Ga­bor. We had 120 shoo­ting days but we could shoot on­ly in ear­ly spring and the end of au­tumn, just be­fore the win­ter. So we had to shoot over two years.

What about your plans? I’m wor­king on an ex­hi­bi­tion for the EYE Film Mu­seum in Am­ster­dam.(2) But I’m not going to tell you about that. You’ll have to come and see.

Adap­ta­tion/trans­la­tion by C. Pen­war­den (1) Le temps d’après (the af­ter-time) is the title of an es­say on Bé­la Tarr by Jacques Ran­cière (Edi­tions Ca­pric­ci, 2011). (2) The ex­hi­bi­tion, Till the End of the World, ope­ned on Ja­nua­ry 21 and ends on May 7.

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