Directed by Béla Tarr. With László Horvath, Lászlóné Horvath, Gábor Kun
Hungary 1977, 35mm, b/w, 100 min. Hungarian with English subtitles
“We can understand; we can’t help,” the social services employee intones to a desperate mother in an unnervingly realistic episode that encapsulates the cycle of grief and torment experienced by those trapped in Hungary’s housing shortage of the 1970s. Made when he was only 22, Béla Tarr’s first feature recalls both Frederick Wiseman and John Cassavetes in its mix of raw, up-close cinema verité style and imperceptible use of non-professional actors. Irén and her husband ache to escape the chaotic confines of a tiny flat where nine people live under the reign of an abrasive, abusive patriarch. Rife with all the ills of a demoralized society, the claustrophobic clamor of this “nest” stuns with its penetrating immediacy, occasionally interrupted by incongruous pop music interludes that only lengthen the distance between desire and reality.