A bleak sense of the unreal hangs heavy over every scene of this atmospherically oppressive black and white 'apocalyptic film-noir', from Hungarian director, Bela Tarr.
With a bar full of chatter-less men, accompanied by the odd clack from a pool table ball, a lone accordion laments. I so pictured Greta Garbo, or Marlene Dietrich half drawling, half wailing into the microphone, in another scene at the seedy Titanik Club. Known in the credits only as 'the singer', our subject is the forlorn Vali Kerekes, usually looking straggled by the rain, or just life itself, as she aimlessly - and toxically, a predatory abuser of all the men she has contact with, floats in and out of her life.
True, Tarr's unrelenting melancholic, drifting camera, wafting like the blankets of fog, black and white images that evoke an earnest socio documented photo assignment from times past, won't ever be considered essential viewing at The Samaritans. However, there is a certain dreary prose to it all, that perhaps, this is what love and life is really like - and about.
Sliding into an image, cinematographer Gabor Medivgy, meticulously composes every frame, even the most mundane. Sound is a key part to Tarr's work; a scene will almost be static, seemingly for many minutes (but actually seconds), such as the lovers embraced, naked, to the monotonous mechanical sound of the rail depot, the camera then swings so slowly round the room, to an image in the mirror of the couple now silently making love, then sweeping at the same speed to an old piano. This is simply masterful - a masterclass for all those interested in the art of film-making.
I could go on, but will say that Damnation shouldn't be anyone's introduction to World, or indeed, Hungarian cinema. It could irreparably taint your outlook on such for a very long time! But for those seasoned in all forms of cinema and when viewed in suitable conditions (not a sunny day, but at night or on a rainy day; perfect) it is both compelling and oddly poetically beautiful.
Compared to Bela Tarr's more well-known - and accessible 'Werckmeister Harmonies', this is more down to earth, the fantastical element has been replaced by an ugly dreary reality. So, please don't assume that because you enjoyed '...Harmonies', you necessarily will like Damnation too.