By Paul T. Bradley
Béla Tarr has been called one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers. His films have their own pace, their own rhythm, and at times, a very forced perspective on some very intricate details in time. In watching them, you may find yourself rapt in the repetition of people doing what people do. You may find yourself transcending what may sound boring, into a higher echelon of visual poetry—Tarr showing you a woman’s daily trip to the well may indeed beatify banality. He is, after all, unlocking the logic of the universe before your very eyes with the power of his camera.
Sadly for all of his fans, Mr. Tarr is not touching that camera again—he has said that THE TURIN HORSE will be his last film. Simply asking him “Why?” does not suffice for an intellect of his caliber. He doesn’t like to repeat himself, and he feels that he has said everything he wants to say with film. What do you ask a man who is tired of answering questions, and just wants to get on with the mere living of life?
Mr. Tarr was nice enough to answer just a few more questions for me, even though the drudgery of festival touring was, admittedly, beginning to wear on him.
Q. Your film THE TURIN HORSE is based on a somewhat important philosophical event. What is your experience with philosophy?
I have never been a philosopher. I have never studied philosophy. When I was young I wanted to be a philosopher, but life was different. In the end, I never went to university and I never studied philosophy, but everything in life connected me to film. I became a filmmaker and now I am a former filmmaker.
Q. Ah, that’s right, this is your last film and now you are a Former Filmmaker? What about becoming a philosopher now?
No. Not now. When you need reading glasses, your life is totally changed there less of a chance for philosophy. To be a philosopher you need to read everything, newspapers, magazines, books—you must know a lot of things…not a lot of things: everything about the world and the whole universe. And that is if you really want to be a real philosopher and not just someone who just takes notes on Heidegger or something. For me, I am too lazy, too old, and too tired to start to understand the whole universe. But, I am fine with that.
Q. And you are okay with that? Well, you seem to understand the details of people very well. Maybe you don’t need to read to be a philosopher.
That’s what I like: to be with the people, to understand them, to follow them and to show them with all of my sensibilities and my knowledge…and I have to show them with tenderness. That’s what I used to do. And now I don’t.
Q. Well, you could always be a bartender now?
No. No. It is totally different.
Q. How are you going to spend your days now, then? I don’t want to harp on you for your retirement. I know you don’t like to repeat yourself.
My day always depends on the situation. Normally I am listening, except in the interviews. Now I am talking.
Q. Well, I could just talk to you, then?
Yes, that might be much more interesting.
Q. Ha! I highly doubt that. In watching your films, the music always plays a crucial role in punctuation. Do you spend a lot of time with musicians, how have musicians influenced your work?
Yes. Our composer…I have worked with him since 1983, we have been friends for such a long time. I do go to his concerts and to his rock ‘n roll shows. When we work, though, we never talk about the arts or the craft, we talk about life. Life is much more interesting than art. I have lots of friends who are critics and artists. But you are stupid if you are only talking about film or music. It’s nice to talk about food or architecture.
Q. Do you talk about the future?
Of the world?
Q. Sure. Especially.
First of all, I am not a prophet. I am not into judging. I cannot say, “This world is good, this world is bad.” This is our creation. Your creation and my creation. That’s what we cooked and we have to eat. The problem is, maybe sometimes we cooked something wrong and our creation is a piece of shit. Because people never respect each other. People never respect human dignity. They never respect nature. They do not respect anything that is eternal. They just always want to use the world for daily life. Just to have it. They do not learn. Maybe I felt this way when I was young, but now I prefer to share—not just have it. But maybe you need age to learn these things.
Q. But THE TURIN HORSE might be seen as showing bleakness in growing older, or a bleakness with age.
Why do they always use this word “bleakness”? What does bleakness mean for you?
Q. Bleakness may imply an inevitable absolute darkness, and I, personally don’t believe in an absolute darkness, an absolute end.
I really don’t like this “bleak” word. Because I really just made a movie about the logic of life. What is happening? You are always doing your daily routine. Every day is different, you do the same, but every day, you are getting weaker, you have less and less energy, less and less hope. In the end, life just disappears. What we see now is life just disappears…you quietly slip away. There is not an apocalypse—the apocalypse is just a TV show. Of course, when you die, you will be alone. Of course, when you die, the darkness will be total. The film is talking about this. It is not talking about the conditions of the world. It is talking about the whole of life—which is, of course, unacceptable—we want to refuse and we hate. But fact is fact. It will come. That is why I don’t like saying “bleak.” Because I want to show this is the heaviest thing. When Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being…I wanted to show the Heaviness of Being.
Q. So, if not bleakness then, just inevitability?
Q. How is it that you gained this perspective? Where do think it started?
I worked in a ship factory for my first film. I learned everything about people for that film. Then, film by film, I learned more. Now I just listen to people, and if you have empathy, this is a perfect universe.
Q. Do you have any sense that people may change, in a hundred years, or a thousand years?
I don’t know. I said I am not a prophet! I am just interested in what is there now. Right now. And right now I need to smoke a cigarette.
Q. After that, are you going to see any other films at the festival?
I always see the main ones. But, how can you compare films? How can you compare a Bresson film with a Hitchcock movie? Two different worlds in the same planet. This is why it is quite nice to always watch movies, because you can see how colorful the world is.
And with that, Bela Tarr went out to smoke a cigarette.
Many thanks Mr. Tarr. Best of luck facing your next stage of the inevitable. I promise not to call it retirement. Or bleak.
Paul T. Bradley is a freelance writer, cinephile and former ditch-digger. He is a regular contributor to LA Weekly’s arts section, where he covers haute nerdery, semi-refined vulgarity and hastily-scrawled, pro-Los Angeles jingoism. He reluctantly tweets from @paultbradley.