Friday, February 27, 2009

Antonio Gaudí (1984) A Film by Hiroshi Teshigahara

In the late 1950's, Hiroshi Teshigahara took his first trip away from his Japanese homeland with his father Sofu, visiting Europe and the United States. In Spain, he witnessed the architecture of Antonio Gaudí and was awestruck. Twenty-five years later he revisited the sites of Gaudí's work, substantially updated his footage, and completed one of his finest late career documentaries, Antonio Gaudí. The film is a rousing, predominantly visual smorgasbord of Gaudí's breathtaking structures, married mellifluously to long-time collaborator Tôru Takemitsu's ambient score which alternates between peaceful organ music and eerie chugs and whistles. It's a wonderful opportunity to see one great artist paying tribute to another, the late Catalan architect from the same region of Spain as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

Teshigahara treats his camera as a newcomer, first scanning the community and capturing the spirit of the Barcelona streets, then closing in on Gaudí's several accomplishments. He takes us from a bizarre apartment complex to a magisterial building to a bustling outdoor park and eventually to the Templo de La Sagrada Familia, a towering church Gaudí was unable to finish before his death. The work completed by Gaudí in his lifetime is truly astounding; each organically curvaceous wall contains microscopic detail, whether shards of colored ceramics or sculpted symbols. His designs are primarily naturalistic, incorporating numerous motifs of the Earth such as seashells or trees. At the same time, his architecture touches upon Medieval, Victorian, and Modern elements simultaneously.

Teshigahara lovingly embraces every inch of it in dazzling color cinematography, recording through close-ups, obtuse angles, and a mobile camera the fantastical interiors and exteriors. Eventually, the film achieves a wonderful rhythm, until a momentary narration intrudes towards the end for a minute or two. It doesn't seem necessary given that the architecture speaks for itself, and the narrated information is rather dull - nothing that one couldn't have known from scanning the back cover of the Criterion DVD. Nonetheless, Antonio Gaudí is the ultimate tourist video, a gorgeous combination of sights and sounds that will have one checking the rates for a vacation to Spain.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Werckmeister Harmonies: Some More Thoughts

(Note: I guarantee this post will contain several spoilers. It is primarily an analysis of Bela Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies, which I have previously reviewed, but in retrospect is a rather weak encapsulation. Therefore, if you haven't seen the film, well, that's quite unfortunate, because you'll get nothing out of this post. Or you could just scan the images, in which case you will likely want to see the film.)

After viewing Hungarian director Bela Tarr's 2000 release, Werckmeister Harmonies, I couldn’t shake the fact that it was a monolithic achievement; it was closer to reality than to a movie, and therefore I felt it had the uncommon capacity to alter my perceptions of art, the world, and ultimately of myself. The film is, in my opinion, Tarr's most enticing, for there is always a strong sense of menace lurking right around the corner, which is an emotion that is usually absent in Satantango and Damnation, in which the hell of their worlds has already erupted and is there to stay. Werckmeister Harmonies treats me to everything I find sublime about cinema: exceptional high contrast black and white cinematography, languid tracking shots, lack of conventional narrative, abstract symbols, gorgeously somber music, unique characters, dominant use of elements such as fog and fire, and thoughtful musings. Its rhythms are as eerily similar to a fever dream as those in David Lynch's Eraserhead, another film which I believe to be genuinely masterful. I have now returned to the atmosphere of Werckmeister Harmonies three times and feel its more than worthy of a closer look.

Instantly, Werckmeister Harmonies is substantially unconventional and anti-commercial. In fact, it’s in a league almost entirely on its own in current cinema (only paralleled by Tarr’s other work). It’s a methodical dreamscape of a film depicting a small town in Hungary that encounters an odd circus show amidst a prophetic time. Tarr puts paramount emphasis on atmosphere rather than plot. Each image cannot be taken at face value; considering most shots are supremely lengthy, one is forced to assess the connotation of each individual black and white composition. Every unbroken shot represents a single scene, of which there are a minimal 37. I was stunned by Tarr’s sophisticated bare bones technique, this being the first time I witnessed such a minimalistic style. The fact that the film is continually enticing is in itself enough of a mystery when placed aside modern media’s propensity to lasso the attention of viewers with rapid juxtapositions of often times technically manipulated images. I couldn’t help but associate these minimalistic visuals with unadulterated reality, because no one can dismiss the fact that life frequently moves slowly and mysteriously.

An indelible impression was also made on me due to the metaphysics of each scene. Granted, Tarr would deny the presence of any allegory in his work, but there’s no doubt that Werckmeister Harmonies is the most symbolically tempting film in his career. As a starting point, the film perhaps makes the suggestion at times - with ample references to the universe and landscapes - that nature is far more powerful than humanity. It is so powerful in fact that it can drastically shape the behaviors of people, a notion that is stunningly on display in the film’s bravura opening sequence, an approximately ten minute long waltz around a drunken display of the cosmos as directed by the protagonist Janos Valuska. If one views the circus as an obstruction to the natural flow of things, as is mirrored in the film through the pantomimic display of an eclipse and Uncle Eszter's microphone discussion of the natural tones that composer Andreas Werckmeister disrupted through his creation of a musical scale, nature’s effect on people is disastrous: violence, depression, reclusiveness, and angst all ensue because of it. (Also, as Eszter posits, the onset of harmonic dissonance and the lack of pure music.) The simple image of the massive circus truck entering the town through a barren roadway is a magnificently lucid portrayal of the coming of catastrophe; one hankering slab of metal signifies the moon beginning to cover the Sun, Werckmeister's orderly thought process setting in motion centuries back, and Hungarian Communism taking full stride.

Aside from a commentary on nature's powerful abilities, Werckmeister Harmonies can be read in a spiritual manner, or - given Tarr's willingness to deny the possibility of proving God's existence - lack thereof. Twice there are undertones of this sentiment. Janos raves about the whale being a creation of God's omnipotence, withholding a stirring sense of the great beyond. He determinedly tries to show it to Eszter but there is never an opportune moment. Angry circles of bearded men surround the whale in its metal tomb, a way of imprisoning good in evil. The whale can be viewed as God Himself, withering away unseen, owned by savage men and used for squalid entertainment. Tarr could be making the case that God has no impact on destitute situations, except perhaps to one soul (Janos) that can't seem to make his or her case known. Later on, in the masterful hospital sequence, the shocking exposé of a bare and fragile old man in a damaged hospital takes on a staunch religious connotation. A slice of incandescence is emitted on him, also giving him the implication of God, however, surrounded by a crowd of hostile men in a shadowy room, a deceased God. The sight of him turns the tides on the havoc being wreaked, but there is no hint of the man ever bettering himself upon their departure. Once the hospital has been ravaged, there's no hope for his survival. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, the dwarfish Prince is utter evil. He drags malevolence with him and contains the whale, suggesting him as Satan. He also speaks Slovakian, an enemy of Hungary during World War II, and his spurts of anger towards his co-employees sound only a notch or two away from Hitler. Although his size may impress upon him less power, his mysterious enigma attaches hordes of zealots to him. Tarr is depicting a classic clash of power - good and evil - which does not end in uplifting triumph, but rather an exertion of the evil so ruthless as to extinguish itself. What results is the optimistic soul of Janos being stuck in a bleak mental hospital with a loss of hearing, and the stately whale left worthless in the foggy market square.

In conclusion, I feel that Werckmeister Harmonies can be digested in three different ways, none of which are superior. The entire rise and fall structure of the film could owe itself to a projection of Hungarian history before, during, and after Communism, grounds that Tarr has showed interest in, most notably with Satantango. With this mindset, Tarr views each period as equally hellish, as one could imagine of pre-apocalypse, apocalypse, and post-apocalypse. The film also flirts with more cosmic terrain, resulting in a more profound religious interpretation. In this scenario, Earth as a whole is hopeless in its void attempt at finding help from a supernatural force. Thirdly, Werckmeister Harmonies could just be an indictment of the "ignorance of society", as my good friend put it, in which case we are simply viewing the fragility of a mass of people in the face of something new to a community (the circus). However, this hearkens right back to the political message: when times get confusing, people get violent. It is possible that Tarr was touching upon each of these, and it is also possible that he had none of this in mind, which would match his own words - "I just wanted to make a movie about this guy who is walking up and down the village and has seen this whale. And, you know when we are working we don't talk about any theoretical things." His vagueness suggests an artist truly concerned with the intriguing, multivalent integrity of his work. However you interpret the film, it is certainly an experience that washes over the viewer with the type of symphonic force that only tremendous art can offer.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Diary of a Country Priest (Journal d'un curé de campagne) A Film by Robert Bresson (1951)

The final moments of a Robert Bresson film always leave me with a sense of great melancholy and loss, which I believe stems mainly from his use of non-actors who never appear again in his oeuvre, but also because his films frequently end on a shot which neither sneers at nor bemoans the death of a main character. In Diary of a Country Priest, that character is the titular priest, suffering abysmally from stomach cancer and an uninviting community that is driving him further and further from God. Bresson looks at his death - which is the apogee of his spiritual character study - in a matter-of-fact manner, treating it as a harsh inevitability while also leaving deceptive whiffs of its metaphysical significance.

Not only is the death inevitable in the mortal sense, Bresson makes us well aware that it is approaching in a narrative sense too. There is no question as to where his suffering is taking him as reflected by the impending Ambricourt, which gives Claude Laydu's young priest the connotation of Christ. He is turned away from the congregation, and the townspeople - save one cute schoolgirl who Bresson makes about as fun and youthful as a stone - also flick him off on account of his austerity, adhering to his depressing diet of wine and bread with utmost rigor. Eventually he begins to lose grip of God and in his attempts to offer guidance to the townspeople, he is as inept as Tomas in Bergman's Winter Light. The priest is a character more or less congruent to the donkey Balthasar, suffering from the hostility of men and being about as classically human as a donkey. He is a staunchly religious figure, one of the great religious characters ever put on screen.

If he's the best, it's because Bresson brings such stunning realism to the entire film. It may be a stretch to say, but Diary of a Country Priest is likely the most accessible launching point for a viewer new to Bresson's filmmaking. It's only his fourth feature, and more specifically, his first that starts to apply his stylistic philosophy. Therefore, the benchmarks of his style - hyper-formal direction, stiff non-actors (or "models"), extreme narrative and cinematographic simplicity - are less overt; the characters are by no means animatronic and there is even a fully functional score, an element Bresson eliminated entirely as his career progressed. The outstanding sense of isolation however, is present as ever; atmospheric sounds tend to dissipate as soon as they arrive and the camera carefully reveals the priest boxed inside his stark room by windows and doors. L.H. Burel, who worked as cinematographer for the film, originally scoffed at Bresson's preference for foggy, slightly unfocused footage, however the effect is tranquil. The diffused light seeping in through the windows beautifully adds irony to the priest's crisis of faith. Diary of a Country Priest is without a question another one of Robert Bresson's devastating, essential works.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Mirror (Zerkalo) A Film by Andrei Tarkovsky (1975)

The Mirror is Andrei Tarkovsky's most cherished film, a dense and heartfelt patchwork of recollections, dreams, and newsreel footage placed within the construct of pre and post-World War II Russia. Tarkovsky reveals the film from the hidden point of view of his poet father Arseny, who often recites thoughtful poetry from his deathbed via narration. Arseny's character is shown only briefly; frequently he is in the scene, but Tarkovsky focuses only on the people and events that surround him, resulting in a heavily subjective narrative that shifts extemporaneously with the father's thoughts. There are several times when we see him as a child in a military school, and also scenes when he is completely absent, presumably at war, suggesting that the moments on screen are entirely constructed, and therefore fleeting. It is often genuinely difficult to surmise which character is being studied, or perhaps from whose mind the scenes are being dreamt up. "In all my films, it seemed to me important to try to establish the links which connect people," Tarkovsky once wrote. In The Mirror, he makes one of his most sincere attempts at doing so, justified by his blatant fixation with close-ups and the rich tapestry of real characters he so lovingly commits to film.

Judging by the fondness for his father that Tarkovsky shows in so much of his writing, it is unsurprising to see him literally attempting to navigate his inner being, hypothesizing about his dreams and experiences as if he had truly formed a metaphysical connection. One gets the sense that Tarkovsky did not simply ask Arseny about what should be filmed. He takes his own memories of his childhood in a house by the edge of a lilting grassy field and projects them into his father's. The film traces many of the happenings in the lives of Andrei's neglected mother and her son Ignat (who is supposedly Tarkovsky himself but looks uncannily like his son Tyapa), such as a doctor who sits quickly to chat with the mother on his way to a nearby town, or, most memorably, a quiet fire that envelops a small wooden cabin aside from the house. Margarita Terekhova takes the bulk of the screen time playing the mother, whom Tarkovsky displays ample compassion for, touching upon her frail existence after being divorced by her husband, caring for the children and juggling a job at a newspaper press. Her flowing blonde hair is one of the visual leitmotifs of the film; whether soaked, dry, or suspended in mid-air, it is at the forefront of Tarkovsky's fascination. In this sense, Tarkovsky transmutes the love he felt for his own wife into his father's love for his mother, yet another one of his honest attempts to reach a spiritual understanding of his family.

The images in The Mirror, equally as with the rest of his oeuvre, fill your soul with nostalgic warmth and subsequently burn into your mind in a way that few other directors have managed. Much of the film deals with what we perceive as concrete recollections, but when dream logic begins to set in, Tarkovsky provides us with some of the most sublime shots in cinema. Perhaps the most disconcerting is a scene that involves his mother soaking her hair in the middle of a dank room of the house, however the room looks separate from reality, a heavenly room with water soaking and running down the entire interior. She rests for a moment with her hair drenched, covering her face as the camera pulls back slowly to watch chunks of the saturated insulation drop to the floor in ever so slight slow motion. In the corner of the room, she approaches a mirror only to see her mother (Tarkovsky's grandmother) staring back at her. There is also a shot that creeps scrupulously through a dark room with open windows, the wind blowing the shades back majestically as a young boy tiptoes towards another partly covered mirror. Wind recurs schematically throughout The Mirror, whether figuratively washing away the momentary relationship of the mother and the doctor or acting as if alive in the forest beside the house, casually knocking a glass bottle off a circular table. Tarkovsky's propensity to slow down the shots minutely while leaving the sound in real time lends these moments an airy, spiritually lucid quality.

Mirrors are, as the title suggests, an essential symbol to take into account in digesting the film. During a scene in which the mother and Ignat visit the house of an unidentified woman expecting a child, Ignat is left alone in a room where he finds himself staring at a mirror. He looks long and hard at it, assessing his soul. It seems he is questioning his very identity, for he has grown up in a jostled wartime, periodically splitting off from his father. When asked by the woman upon return what his name is, he does not respond with his true name. Mirrors act as entities that bring into examination one's spiritual identity. At one point, Arseny's character couples the images with a poem about souls growing tired of being trapped in their physical bodies. Therefore, it appears there is a theme of escapism in The Mirror, which likely turned off Soviet officials as much as the film's unconventional approach. Tarkovsky shows newsreel footage depicting the war, only to follow it by the composition of the family in eternal embrace upon the father's return. It is evidently the war - more than personal differences and hardship - that jolted Tarkovsky's family.

Although Stalker struck me with a greater visceral impact, there is something extremely intimate about The Mirror. A hefty portion of the middle of the film leans towards ponderous, but it is held together by the sense that Tarkovsky lived and died for each frame of film. It is the dedication that he has to evoking memory, dreams, and the states of human consciousness in between which allow the film to stir up so much warmth, familiarity, and unease in its viewers. The film plays almost like a companion piece to his debut Ivan's Childhood, with its predilection to the personal effects of wartime, although it's leagues more subjective. Tarkovsky's poetry is as deep as ever in The Mirror, and admittedly I have only created a sketch reading of it. I hope to see it several more times to expand my appreciation of this pure piece of cinematic art.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Limey (1999) A Film by Steven Soderbergh

If Steven Soderbergh divies up his career into commercial filmmaking (the Ocean's trilogy) and more artful projects (Bubble or the Tarkovsky remake, Solaris) 1999's The Limey occupies a space neatly in the middle. It's somewhat of an expected thriller plot, but his revival of two 60's countercultural actors, Peter Fonda and Terrence Stamp, and by extension his archival use of footage of a free-spirited Stamp in a Ken Loach picture - not ironically also named "Wilson" - adds a dimension of the personal to Soderbergh's project. As well as attempting to paint a discombobulated portrait of loss and revenge, Soderbergh appears to be hinting at the pliancy of the physical careers of Stamp and Fonda themselves. Their characters in The Limey feel like aged extensions of those they played in films like Easy Rider and Billy Budd, after enduring years of near hyatis.

Terrence Stamp delivers an impressively subtle performance as Wilson, a grey-haired Brit who is released from prison for armed robbery after receiving a letter from his friend (Luis Guzman) about his daughter Jenny's death. He is certain of it being a murder, and is suspicious of Fonda's character Terry Valentine, a rock record producer involved in a heroine gig with a group of trucking business gangsters. Wilson knows Valentine's ability to rake in beautiful woman given his numerous mouth-watering homes, so he pursues him at all costs once learning loosely of a relationship he had with Jenny from her voice coach, who becomes one of Wilson's helping hands throughout the film. Savage revenge looks like an act of duty for Wilson, as he makes expedient work of nearly everyone who gets in his way, but this may give the impression that he is a ruthless headcase. In truth, his tender side incessantly comes to the fore a la quiet moments of introspection; soundless bits of imagery, treated to appear as if rapidly disintegrating, flash on screen nearly every time Stamp is alone peering pensively into nothingness.

While such scenes border on the sentimental or perhaps familiar, the rest of the narrative is engineered with temporal disassociation. During conversational scenes, the dialogue will often kickstart before the subject begins cuing up, almost as if some of the words were simply preemptive thoughts before speaking. There are also scenes that are damning in regard to the film's style; when Wilson and the voice coach meet up and sift through their thoughts, their fluid conversation is intercut line by line in three incongruent settings. All of this leans towards gratuitous stylistic flourishes, which if any is the key problem in The Limey. Soderbergh's obscure editing style, which even replays the same events multiple times with minor changes, often points towards a film with a more jack-in-the-box denouement, in the vein of Memento for instance. However the climax, which has Fonda held at gunpoint, is strainingly impermanent, and it becomes clear that Soderbergh's apparent primary interest in a meditative character study is shrouded in its own emphasized narrative treatment. Notwithstanding these occasional fumbles, the film is intriguing if entirely for Stamp and Fonda's comeback performances and the superb score that underplays them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sunset Boulevard (1950) A Film by Billy Wilder

There's something sweetly ironic about seeing the end title of Sunset Boulevard slapped on top of the Paramount Pictures logo. The juxtaposition is the culminating frame in a film that is held taut by its indictments of Hollywood's numerous corruptions, set around (and sometimes within) the Paramount Pictures Studios. Sunset Boulevard is typical of Billy Wilder's penchant for risky subject matter, but it's also more visually appealing than some of his films combined. It's a film that succeeds on many levels of production; the script is intricate and boldly conceived (if at times melodramatic), the set design is marvelous, Wilder's direction is fluent, and the lighting and camera movements are stately. Aside from these concrete elements, the film also seduces the viewer into its own special world that is rather indescribable; if you don't believe me, ask the devout admirer David Lynch, who will tell you so in one of his famously vague ramblings.

In a passage that is pure Golden Age Hollywood, screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) escapes his shadowy creditors to the side of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles where he unearths the crumbling mansion of the equally crumbling, self-proclaimed silent film "star" Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Well, Desmond truly was a star; her heyday was marked by several memorable collaborations with director Cecil B. DeMille, who even makes a cameo showing in the film. However, her problem is that she hasn't come to accept the reality of her current situation, which manifests itself into the several misshapen aspects of her life: the "fan letters" she believes she receives (but which are actually sent by her butler Max, another has-been filmmaker, Erich Von Stroheim), the general otherworldliness of her mansion, which seems to be fusing into the shrubbery that surrounds it, or the lack of locks on her vast doors as a safeguard for Max in the instance of a possible suicide attempt. "I am big. It's the pictures that got small," Desmond claims. She's an extremely fascinating screen persona, and the scene where she revisits DeMille at the Studio to consult him about a poor script she wrote for herself stirs up feelings of both pity and compassion.

While her personal corruption seems to be associated with her loss of fame and aging body, Gillis is on the opposite side of the spectrum. He's a writer who has frequently been on the cusp of a big hit, but whose minor failures have progressively made him more and more cynical. When asked by Norma to assist her in writing her script, he jumps at the opportunity, being well aware of the status she had reached as an actress. Creepily however, Norma takes hold of Gillis, scrutinizing his every move, an action that eventually turns for the worst when Gillis begins a love affair with an engaged script reader. When ambition runs in Sunset Boulevard, self-absorption is not far behind. Gillis seems to lose his identity, grabbing hold of the promise of money over a more worthwhile situation. The fact that we too lose a connection with Gillis speaks to the power of the film; he narrates the entire film with gusto (from what we perceive as the afterlife) but Wilder spins the plot around so deftly that eventually even we are unaware of who he is morally or professionally. Sunset Boulevard is certainly one of the most handsome productions of the 50's, and Wilder's knack for weaving a complex psychological tale while also keeping his taboos close to mind is undeniable.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bottle Rocket (1996) A Film by Wes Anderson

While at the University of Texas, roommates Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson did not necessarily have plans of making several films together. However, when they co-wrote the short Bottle Rocket in 1994 and received accolades at Sundance, their plans changed. This gave them the possibility to make the feature-length Bottle Rocket, which was the first burst of energy out of the collaboration.

Owen Wilson plays Dignan, a twentysomething who escapes from the nuthouse he's stationed in to jump impromptu into an ill-prepared life of crime with his friends Anthony, played by Owen's brother Luke Wilson, and Bob. When the gang's first attempted robbery succeeds, albeit clumsily, they hide out at a motel on the side of a vast strip of land where Anthony woos the Spanish maid Inez. Communication between the two is nearly impossible, allowing Anderson to find drollery in Anthony's earnest attempts at cheering her despite the fact. He follows her closely around the symmetrical corridors of the complex (ones that, with their peachy red color scheme, are characteristic of Anderson's milieu), even slipping into the rooms with her to fluff a pillow or two, much to the patron's confusion. Anthony assumes Dignan's jealousy, and when Dignan hears through a translator "tell Anthony I love him", one can imagine something else at work in Dignan's decision to keep hush about it until later in the film.

These minor moral predicaments - Anthony's subtle lovesickness after he leaves the motel, Dignan's uncertain thirst for criminal success, Bob's brother difficulties and troubles with the law for sustaining marijuana in his backyard - are ironically underplayed by Mark Mothersbaugh's carefree ditties, assuring the film never dips into weighty themes. The Devo frontman has brought zest to each of Anderson's films, although in Bottle Rocket it is probably the lesser performance; the songs sound as if they've been extracted from a company learning video. Anderson's visuals were not yet refined in his debut either. Stage-like compositions are not as abound, and the informational overhead shots are few and far between. Often times close-ups feel amateur; for example, the characters are frequently placed on the wrong side of the frame looking out with no lead room. Nevertheless, one can sense his style beginning to take form, and if anything, Rushmore was a great leap.

Whereas the camerawork may be primeval, the themes and sets are noticeably Andersonian. The yellow jumpsuits that are worn in the film's semi-climactic (and most hilarious) heist are reminiscent of the uniform orange hats worn by Team Zissou in The Life Aquatic, and the bromance that ensues between Dignan and Anthony shares the same foundation of that of the three brothers in The Darjeeling Limited. Male bonding - forged through hilarity and absurdity - is common in Anderson's work. Bottle Rocket never feels fully inspired, but in its successful dryly comic moments, it can be seen as a strong primer for the wonderful films that followed from this great young American auteur.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Prologue (2004) A Short Film by Bela Tarr

If you ask Bela Tarr about his contribution to 2004's Visions of Europe, a collaboration from 25 pioneering European directors on, quite simply, their visions of Europe, he'll treat it no different than he would his mammoth seven-hour Satantango. Or any of his features for that matter. Prologue is approximately 445 minutes shorter than his magnum opus, but he approaches it in the same way. It involves one fluid tracking shot that watches rather closely the destitute faces of a seemingly endless line of mangily characters. The shot instantly reflects Tarr's remarkable string of recent (last two decades) works, with its interest in slow lateral movement and stark black-and-white cinematography. 1988's Damnation contains a shot that is very similar, although this time around the camera is moving to the left as opposed to the right, and there lacks a rhythmic exchange of dirty wall to dirty faces.

As usual, the models in Tarr's films appear to be waiting for something, and given their air of general pessimism, it is likely out of desperation. This notion is resolved once the camera reaches the end of the line and a smiling woman opens a sliding window on the brick wall to commence giving rations to the men. A mood of curiosity develops as the eager faces glide by the screen at a continuous rate, only revealing profiles and teasing frontal glances multiple times. There is something to be said of Tarr's views of gender roles; his outlook is quite classical, treating the men as hungry laborers devoted to the difficult inevitabilities of life (such as waiting in an expansive line), and the woman - who are nonetheless cut from the same cloth - as nourishers. Most of his work shares this sentiment, save in Werckmeister Harmonies, when Hannah Shuygulla emerges as an ambitious, independent thinker. Prologue, while being formally stunning paired with Mihály Vig's repetitious and mournful waltz, is a singular and far-reaching addition to Visions of Europe that once again cements Tarr's grim view of the working class in Hungary or elsewhere.