The Cinema of Béla Tarr: The Circle Closes, by András Bálint Kovács offers a critical assessment of one of Europe’s most important contemporary directors. As Kovács argues, for both his aesthetic achievements but also his remarkable depiction and understanding of the present and historical situation for Eastern Europe, Tarr represents an important voice.
In a widely cited essay, The World According to Béla Tarr, Kovács discusses each of Tarr’s films and his development as a director. In the following passage, Kovács describes how Tarr’s films capture the mood and zeitgeist of Eastern Europe in the 1990s:
The significance of Béla Tarr’s films in the 1990s—beyond their stylistic and aesthetic values—is that they offer the most powerful and complex vision of the historical situation in the Eastern European region over the last decade. His films reach but few viewers; still, it would be hard to deny that he speaks for hundreds of millions of ordinary European people in his universal and ruthless language, people who feel cheated and disappointed for wasting all the values of their previous lives in a matter of seconds, who fall prey to petty intrigues, who are led by petty, mean promise-mongers that talk of high ideals but follow their selfish power and financial interests. This feeling is born not only from the past, but also from the present experience; although the setting and certain characters may have changed, the same petty fights and intrigue still rule our lives; other ideologies are quoted, while the misery remains or even deteriorates in the former Soviet Union, Romania, or Yugoslavia. We cannot trust anyone; we cannot believe in anything, for all high ideals are but tools to abuse the helpless. We, Eastern-Europeans, are the tenants of the blocks of flats in Satantango and we desperately cling to all the promises of the promise-mongers who only take our money. We are the hopeless drunkards; our leaders are the alcoholic policeman, the clever smuggler, and the mafia-man inn-keeper…. All of this, of course, is an exaggeration—the exaggeration of great art.
Here too is a clip from his 2000 film Werckmeister Harmonies: