Tieryas Visual Preview of the film Damnation by Bela Tarr and the book Damnation by Janice Lee


I usually love black-and-white movies, especially moody ones, so I was surprised that I’d never heard of Bela Tarr before. Fortunately, in doing my Lit Pub review of the book, Damnation by Janice Lee (which was in turn inspired by Tarr’s work), I discovered Tarr’s film work, which I’ve come to love. Damnation is such an interesting film, not just in terms of story, but visually, every frame is brimming with strange details. All the characters on screen have a story and it’s fascinating just to watch what the side characters are doing. There’s not the sleek polish of fake-looking visuals and quick cuts that ruin the tempo of some modern films, but instead, a visceral realism that is made all the more palpable with the slow camera moves and lingering shots (which in some ways reminds me of Beat Takeshi’s films). I loved Janice Lee’s book and loved the movie as well. I actually read the book first, then watched the movie, then re-read the book and got so much more out of it. I enjoyed it so much in fact that I grabbed a bunch of screen shots to show how incredibly interesting the movie is. I’m pasting these in below. Here’s a brief synopsis, though this is definitely one of those movies where the execution is what makes the film so compelling rather than the payoff at the end: “Damnation tells the story of Karrer (Miklós B. Székely), a depressed man in love with a married torch singer (Vali Kerekes) from a local bar, the Titanik. The singer broke off their affair, because she dreams of becoming famous. Karrer is offered smuggling work by Willarsky (Gyula Pauer), the bartender at the Titanik. Karrer offers the job to the singer’s husband, Sebestyén (György Cserhalmi). This gets him out of the way, but things don’t go as Karrer plans. Betrayals follow. Karrer despairs.”

Make sure to check out Bela Tarr’s movie as well as the awesome book by Janice Lee which you can buy at this link! Let’s start off with a cool quote from the book:

“It is a mistake to assume that black is the most haunting and terrifying of colors. It is empty and dark and lonely, but it is also absolute, certain, and calming in its overbearingness. White, on the other hand offers overwhelming possibility, uncertainty, and notions of hope that drive the strongest of men mad.”

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18 thoughts on “Tieryas Visual Preview of the film Damnation by Bela Tarr and the book Damnation by Janice Lee

  1. The screenshot of the man barking with the dog reminds me a little of Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. Have you seen it?

    I must say I have a liking for Eastern European/Russian film from the 1970 and 1980s. This looks very interesting and I know Tarr is a favorite among many cineastes.

    I’m also curious about Janice Lee’s ekphrastic work about Damnation. But first must go and read your review!

    • hi Berit, I haven’t seen Stalker yet. Should I? Yeah, I really enjoyed this one, though I always like black-and-white films and I like slow works as well that explore the psyche, ha ha. I found it especially enjoyable reading Janice’s book and watching the movie and seeing how she expands on it and just takes it to a completely new level. =)

      Thanks for stopping by and checking it out. I realized as I was writing the review, I was referring to a lot of the visuals and I thought just doing this would be a lot more helpful in conveying my thoughts!

  2. Tarr is often compared to to Tarkovsky in their sensibilities and their use of the long take, and there are definitely visual similarities. (Berit: Stalker is one my absolute favorite films!) But I think the way that their long takes communicate their world views and notions on human dignity are drastically different. There’s a different supernatural element that manifests in the gaze of Tarkovsky’s camera, whereas with Tarr, there’s a bleak though also relieving feeling of “That’s all there is.”

    • Janice, Stalker is one of your favorites? OK, for sure, I have to watch this ASAP. I know what you mean about Tarr’s bleakness and am curious to see more of Tarkovsky’s supernatural =)

      • Yes Stalker is amazing. The original footage shot for Stalker was unusable so he had to reshoot almost the entire film, and what’s interesting is that though the film’s content and story circle around the supernatural, nothing obviously supernatural actually occurs in the film. Instead the supernatural becomes more about the ambient tone and sustained gazes.

    • Very interesting comparison, Janice! I’m looking forward to watching some Tarr and see how he compares with Tarkovsky. I wonder if they ever met. Good chance they at least knew about each other, working in the same medium in the same part of the world.

      Also very cool to hear Stalker is one of your favorite films, Janice!

      Peter, you should really see Stalker. Let us know what you think if/when you do!

      I think I love everything about Stalker, the story, the symbolism, the music, but maybe most of all the cinematography, and especially Tarkovsky’s photography of water.

      There is a definite supernatural element to it, especially at the end, but for me Stalker is also philosophical. Some of the words of the characters at the end are similar to ideas Indian thinkers have expressed for centuries about the nature of the human being. Very interesting.

      • Wow, the more I hear from you both, the more I just keep on thinking I got to got to got to see this! Will let you know Berit and Janice, thanks again! =)

      • I’m sure they have met, working in similar modes, though Tarr himself dismissed the label when film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called Tarr a “”despiritualized Tarkovsky.” Tarr’s response:

        “The main difference is Tarkovsky’s religious and we are not. But he always had hope; he believed in God. He’s much more innocent than us—than me. No, we have seen too many things to make his kind of film. I think his style is also different because several times I have had a feeling he is much softer, much nicer.”


        “Rain in his films purifies people. In mine, it just makes mud.”

        I agree that there are similarities in the use of long take as a sort of process of “sculpting time” (Tarkovsky has a book called this), but in terms of function of the long take in the films and the worldview that Tarr communicates, I think they’re drastically different.

        I love them both though!

        In a way perhaps Tarkovsky’s got my heart with Stalker but I’m pretty sure Tarr has got a hold of my soul.

      • Amazing and sounds correct about Tarkovsky!

        Seems the quote “Rain in his films purifies people. In mine, it just makes mud.” says everything about the difference of their films.

    • I totally agree. Though Tarr and Tarkovsky have aesthetic similarities in their movie making, philosophically and, especially, their definition of art and its purpose are different.

  3. Agree with Stalker, it’s my top3 of all times, but anyway Damnation is high on that list as well (yet I love Harmonies even more). I’d say Tarr and Tarkovsky are very close, they are both hard-workers and poeats sitting together on a dark, cold night, yet Tarkovsky is more of a poet and Tarr more of a hard-worker, that being said there is not enough space between them for any other director.

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