Damnation - Bela Tarr, Hungary, 1988
There's an undeniable power to the film, and I'm glad I've finally gotten around to checking Tarr out. It had me hooked from the very first image, and I was with it for about 70% of the time. But...I don't know. Something about the unrelenting dreariness just kinda soured on me after a while. I'm not really even sure that Damnation is a pessimistic movie per se; there's such a focus on searching, a defiance of despair that seems simultaneous with an embrace of it...the film becomes a dark but oddly vital meditation on the madness of persisting in a world that seems utterly devoid of hope. But even so, even if one is willing to accept this, the film's oppressivness, the sheer severity of the vision, doesn't sit well with me. I'm willing to accept this as a tempermental thing on my part - I'm so much more impressed with flexibility, nuance, ambiguity, the occasion sprinkling of irony (and there is a bit of that here, a dash of the absurd, but it's a cold and a cruel absurdity, and that's a key difference.) It's a matter of taste, I suppose. Damnation might be a masterpiece, but I'll probably have to see more of Tarr, and revisit this one, before I'm willing to sign off on that idea.
There's a juicy digression waiting to happen about the frought nexus where philosophy and art meet...where cerebration and emotion are thrown together awkwardly, with each one vying for dominance - but that's for another time.