Bela Tarr’s style emerges quite fiercely in this bleak, confusing story of five misfit characters living under the same roof. Again, emotions are running high and again, you’re going to feel claustrophobic but it has an alluring affect, I promise. It’s practically, hypnotic. I can’t explain it, it just works. Probably due to the quote that’s presented to us in the opening of the film which states, “Even if you kill me I see no trace. This land is unknown. The devil is probably leading. Going round and round in circles.” This is a quote by Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin which meticulously reveals itself throughout the narrative of Bela Tarr’s fourth film, Almanac of Fall (1984). It’s sinister and basically expresses, Tarr’s defeatism attitude towards humanity.
Instead, of Tarr’s focus on realism, he awesomely transitions into the existential dimension. For instance, the opening sequence reminds me of a Tarkovsky film as the camera’s focus is on a piano bathed in pale blue light, as it maneuvers from one object to another. Tarkovsky does that a handful of times in his films, such as Stalker and Sacrifice. It sets the tone for meditative introspection of one’s own dwellings, while exposing lethal emotions of resentment, envy, greed, anger, along with something that’s going to conflict with the character’s deepest obsessions and fears towards each other.
What’s spectacular about this film is Bela Tarr’s style in lighting. He goes bonkers with a color palette that infiltrates a vileness but also emits this creepy factor, almost like watching a noir film except it’s in color. (If that’s even possible).
Despite, the colorful atmosphere, it presents a terrifying aura and unsettling ambiance and ambivalence these characters have for one another. Think about the color scheme translating into emotions such as red transcends into anger, green into envy, blue a calmness, and so forth.
Most if not all the characters seem to want money, which Heidi, the old woman of the house has and each character in one way or another conspires to take it. The cast of characters are, the wealthy elderly woman, Hedi, her moody son, her sex addict nurse, the nurse’s somewhat quiet lover, and a weary traveler are all venomous to one another where most of their conversations begin in a shouting match to ending in a full on fist fight. It’s humanity at it’s best.
There’s a particular shot, where Tarr has the camera positioned beneath the floorboards which is all glass so you can see the action, from the actor’s feet as a looming fight begins to take place. This is one of the most innovative shots that made me drool from the mouth and question how the hell did he do that? It’s brilliant.
Another notable aesthetically pleasing shot is the scene between the mother and son having a lengthy conversation, the camera does a slow pan circling the two very defiantly breaking the 180 rule, but also doing a complete 360. This shot makes me reflect back to the earlier quote: the vicious cycle equates to the characters being each their own devil and the apartment is hell itself. These obscure characters conspire to steal, attempt to kill, manipulate, all influenced by greed or obsession is the vicious cycle and of course doesn’t get them very far. They end up being disappointed, betrayed, and hurt. Every single scene in this film is shot inside. There are no external shots. There is no escape of hell in this film, and that is sickly terrifying which Bela Tarr powerfully gives us this in his dark tale of humanity.