ALMANAC OF FALL (Béla Tarr, 1984)

Béla Tarr’s Öszi almanach is beautifully crafted, but it is so unpleasant, so nasty and pessimistic, I ended up hating it. The entire action, much of which consists of intimate two-person conversations and (verbal, physical) confrontations, unfolds in Hédi’s flat—an intricately detailed, occasionally mysterious, half-expressionistic space. Hédi (Hédi Temessy, impressive), who is about sixty, lives with her irresponsible 30-year-old son, János, her thirtysomething caregiver, Anna, Anna’s current lover, brooding Miklós, and a financially desperate teacher, her son’s friend Tibor, who is about fifty. Hédi’s savings (and diamonded gold bracelet) are a large attraction all around.
     In one brilliant scene, Hédi and Anna are alone in Hédi’s bedroom. While giving her an injection, Anna consoles Hédi, who is distraught, apparently, because her son keeps asking her for money. Anna praises Hédi for not giving in to János on this occasion. One might mistake Anna for a supportive daughter—only she isn’t, and when one analyzes the scene one realizes that Anna is making Hédi miserable with her “consolation.” Anna’s kisses only make her seem more manipulative.
     This early promise disintegrates. Even Hédi and Anna end up having a brawl. A glass floor under which the camera points up records a physical assault on Tibor in the kitchen, where János later anally rapes Anna, whom he has pitched across the top of the refrigerator. When afterwards she gets thrown to the bedroom floor by Miklós, Anna crawls into her rapist’s bed and she and János laugh. Their laughter stuck in my throat.
     Exquisitely lit, the film provides a softer version of the color scheme of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972). Its final wedding celebration suggests Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969).
     Hédi’s best utterance: “I’ve always thought this is a transition. And then comes life.”

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