A Wild Epiphany: The Prefab People
Relationships can be a messy thing if not cared for properly and perhaps love is a mysterious thing too. With that in mind, Bela Tarr’s third cinéma-vérité film, The Prefab People (1982) reflects on the spiraling relationship of a working class family where a surge of emotions run high while the demise of the marriage is inevitable. It’s dark, and depressing, nonetheless it’s a chunk of reality that occurs everyday to everyday people in the real world. What’s compelling, is Tarr’s interest in the same subject matter about how harsh life can genuinely be and how everyday people handle it. The struggle, and the despair, all echo the catastrophic event of pain and heartache. Tarr plays with time in a different way too.
The beginning is the end and the end is the beginning. The narrative begins with the ending of Ferj and Feleseg’s relationship, where Ferj (the husband) decides he’s had enough and walks out on his family. It’s dramatic; screaming baby, the wife is crying, nearly pleading in a babbling childlike disarray about why he’s leaving. If you watch the film in it’s entirety you can examine their relationship as a pathologist performs an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Same thing. Looking at the timeline of the relationship and the attitudes drawn from it, you can start to hypothesize why the husband left in the first place. Despite loving each other, the two are absolutely miserable together. Their resentment towards one another is the mightiest hurdle in their dysfunctional relationship, as Feleseg (the wife) rages on about Ferj wanting to take a job that would relocate him for years at a time where he’d only be home for holidays. It’s even more troubling and pathetic when they celebrate an anniversary together. Ferj wants to be intimate and have a special evening by buying a bottle of fine beer, but it fails to ignite any spark between them when Feleseg begins complaining. She complains about him, their living situation, time, money, basically everything.
Despite the mess of the relationship, the bigger picture is even more gritty, and relentlessly captivating because it’s one enormous metaphor for Hungarian society in the early 80s. Their economy wasn’t very strong, standard of living declined, housing was very limited and highly sought after just as its revealed in his first film Family Nest. The economy infected stability which percolates into the mentality of the unhappy couple, igniting frustration and resentment. But, the oddball remedy for this oddball couple is in the final scene where they purchase a new washing machine, and together in a lengthy long take are riding in the back of a pickup truck with their new product. They’re quiet, not fighting, just at peace. I guess in some sense, buying an item that eases the chore of doing laundry manually is a gift itself. Because nobody likes to have their dirty laundry sprawled out everywhere. It’s offensive and it smells. Clean laundry equals happy people. That’s a metaphor right?
It’s a strenuous film to get through because at some point, it just feels like you’re the third party awkwardly watching a couple’s problems transcend into some dramatic tragedy performed for the stage. This is the third black and white film, that gave me a headache from the dizzying, monotonous dialogue. It’s the type of filmmaking that’s raw, unforgiving, and poignant, which is kind of unique in today’s modernized, fast paced, digitized, mega blockbuster.
On another note, we’re creating a society of prefab people just as we’ve created prefabricated homes for them. Somehow, someway, along the way somebody decided it was a good idea to prefabricate homes on a massive scale. Supply and demand along with a healthy economy with very little unemployment allowed for people and still allows people to purchase homes. Which is great, but what comes along with that purchase? An attitude? A consumer role? Somehow, someway the mindset of people and perhaps massive waves of consumerism provides a perfect atmosphere for prefab people to grow in massive quantities and qualities.
Okay bare with me here for a moment, as I process this massive thought. What if Bela Tarr was simply in a very metaphoric, but right-in-front-of your-face kind of way proposed that the Prefab People was a result of the massive amounts of consumerism that changed the attitudes of genuine people. Think about it. When you buy something, what do you feel? Does your mood change? Do you get a sense of euphoria from it? Some people place a so much value on the things they buy and sooner or later become hooked and dependent on such things which makes me wonder if it shifts the mentality of good, sensible people into trend watching, spend-o-matic drones. We’re so bombarded with advertisements and social media on a daily basis that it makes sense our thoughts shift towards wanting and spending, etc. etc. Of course I might be reaching for the stars here in trying to dissect Bela Tarr’s, Prefab People. My mind had to go down the deep thought provoking path, it’s what I love so much about films like this. My mind goes left instead of right. It goes deep into a realm of possibilities and ideas beyond the surface because its much more gratifying picking at the meat of the flesh than grazing it marginally.