Damnation (1988)

Good Christ, that’s the longest two hours I’ve spent watching a film since… well, I don’t really know when. I don’t even know if those Satyajit Ray films I’ve watched recently felt quite so extended. I knew I’d probably have to explore Bela Tarr at some point, so I thought I’d try him at comparatively shorter length before subjecting myself to Satantango, to which end I got the Artificial Eye box of three of his other films that don’t last seven hours… Apparently this film marks the point, about a decade into his filmmaking career, where Tarr really blossomed into the god of long takes beloved of cinephiles, and damn me if he doesn’t live up to that reputation with this. Damnation could be some sort of dictionary definition of cinematic minimalism, short on plot and action; indeed you could say that almost the only thing that happens in the film is that the camera moves (which it does, pretty much constantly but also very, very, very, very, VERY slowly). Not much happens in the narrative, which revolves around a man who can only be described as a total loser trying to restart an affair with a woman who sings at a bar. Other qualities conspicuously lacking from the film are humour, lightness of touch, and a good reason for the film to last as long as it does, though I will give it points for the way it conjures up its desolate world, which borders on the post-apocalyptic in its feel, beautifully rendered in black and white. However, while the single-mindedness with which the film goes about its rather dreary business is something I can respect, it’s not something I particularly enjoyed, and too often Damnation gave me the feeling it was being bleak and unpleasant just because it could, not because the grimness and unceasing rain and existentialism actually served much purpose.

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2 thoughts on “Damnation (1988)

  1. Bonjour Tristesse October 11, 2011 at 2:43 am

    I was quite impressed by the nightclub singing scene, but you are right about the constant dreariness of this wearing you down.

    I suggest giving Werckmeister Harmonies a try, it is a much better film.

  2. MattL October 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Tarr’s films really need to be seen in the movie theatre because they overwhelm the viewer. I saw Damnation many years ago at a museum screening and it blew me away. But when I got around to watching it again on DVD I had a tough time getting through it. Sometimes slow paced, plotless movies do not work on a television screen.

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