Bela Tarr’s 1994 seven-hour dark comedy has finally turned up on DVD, and its arrival will clearly break audiences into an even split. There will be those who view this work as an epic masterpiece that brilliantly dissects the harsher elements of the human condition with compelling yet agonizing precision, and there will be the other camp who will find this film to be excessively artsy and painfully tedious. In a way, both sides are correct.
Set in a dreary Hungarian agricultural collective after the fall of communism, the film details the dead-end lives of the rural families who find themselves trapped in a hopeless oblivion. People drink, fight, scheme, spy on each other, and fall victim to their delusions and jealousies. A small girl tortures a cat, while the child’s mother eventually poisons the feline before swallowing the toxic brew herself. The local physician imbibes heavily on fruit brandy, while a shady character who disappeared years earlier (and was presumed dead) returns with more chicanery in store.
In its favor, Tarr’s daring use of extended takes shot in a bleak black-and-white offers a jolting presentation of lives being wasted in a dead end purgatory. But at the same time, the film’s funereal pacing can often test one’s patience (especially the eight-minute opening sequence with a lethargically paced tracking shot that follows a herd of cows who are filmed from an extreme distance).
Those with a strong will for art house extremes will strike gold here, while those demanding speed and snap may doze throughout the endeavor.