Tarr Bela, I Used to Be a Filmmaker: FIDMarseille Review

Engagingly straightforward 'making of' casts welcome light on one of current European cinema's most intriguing enigmas.

French documentary goes behind the scenes on the swansong by Hungary's most acclaimed director.

An intimate, even cosy valedictory chronicle of how one of recent cinema's most austerely uncompromising major films reached the screen, Tarr Bela - I Used to Be a Filmmaker is catnip for serious cinephiles. Evidently granted all-areas access to the remote Hungarian locations where 2011's The Turin Horse was shot, young French anthropologist/director Jean-Marc Lamoure has crafted a respectfully observational, accessible documentary. As such, it will be of interest to the dozens of festivals around the world which showed Tarr's two-and-a-half-hour epic of dour, monochrome minimalism, winner of the Silver Lion at the Berlinale and supposedly the director's swansong.

But whereas admirers of the now 58-year-old Tarr regard him as the spiritual and creative heir of 20th century giants Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky, he never quite made their leap from critical acclaim to wider renown among arthouse patrons. Lamoure's project therefore appeals more as a festival and small-screen proposition than one warranting distribution, even in Hungary where Tarr -- now concentrating on his Film Factory academy in Sarajevo, Bosnia -- has long enjoyed/endured an equivocal reputation. Long-term, it will surely find its niche as an illuminating extra on Turin Horse DVDs and Blu-Rays.

Previously responsible for 2004's mid-length Chaalo, the Voices of Mourning and experimental concert-film Farenji, Lamoure takes an unobtrusively fly-on-the-wall approach here, unacknowledged by the affable, black-clad, chain-smoking Tarr and what's referred to early on as his "shooting family." Many of the key personnel on The Turin Horse, a apocalyptic evocation of wind-blown farmstead life in the early 1890s, have been members of this family for years or even decades, including Tarr's wife/co-director/editor Agnes Hranitzky, cinematographer Fred Kelemen (himself a director of some renown), scriptwriter László Krasznahorkai, musician Mihaly Vig and lead actors Janos Derzsi and Erika Bok.

These professionals have clearly developed a very comfortable working relationship, and Tarr Bela - I Used to be a Filmmaker (Lamoure's title obeys Hungarian convention by placing the surname first) presents a set remarkably light on rancor, ego and creative discord. And while everything obviously revolves around Tarr, serenely presiding over a "feudal system" that's far from democratic, the idea of cinema as an essentially collaborative art is once again very strongly enforced. The input of Hranitzky, for example, is so crucial that her perennial (but perennially disregarded) co-director credit can never again be ascribed to mere uxoriousness.

Making productively sparing use of Akosh Szelevenyi's score, Lamoure takes occasional detours to Budapest where he elicits revealing, sometimes wryly comic comment from Bok, Vig and Derzsi. He also interpolates extracts from Tarr's best-known previous productions, the 7-1/2 hour Satantango (1994) and 2000's Werckmeister Harmonies, plus 8mm footage apparently shot during the making of the former.

And while this helps to break up what could have been a monotonous excursion to the rural back-of-beyond -- The Turin Horse was shot between December 2008 and June 2010 -- it's rewarding to witness Tarr's low-key methods in situ. Sequences that evocatively transport us into a simple, bygone era were, we realize, often achieved using such decidedly modern inventions as a wind-machine and a helicopter, the latter deployed most startlingly to whip up a dusty windstorm around the eponymous equine for the picture's breathtaking opening shot.

Venue: FIDMarseille (Parallel Screens)
Production company: MPM Film
Director / Screenwriter: Jean-Marc Lamoure
Producers: Juliette Lepoutre, Marie-Pierre Macia
Director of photography: Jean-Marc Lamoure, Frederic Lombard
Editor: Nadia Ben Rachid
Music: Akosh Szelevenyi
Sales: MPM Film, Paris
No MPAA rating, 85 minutes