(Ira Sachs, US, 2007, 90 mins.)
(Bela Tarr, Hungary, 1982, 102 mins.)
Love and marriage, love and marriage
It's an institute you can't disparage.
-- Frank Sinatra (Cahn/Van Heusen)
Nothing to "disparage" here...
By coincidence, I watched Bela Tarr's third feature, Prefab People (1982), a week before Ira Sachs's third, Married Life (2007). While the former is Hungarian, the latter American, both concern unhappy unions. Aside from the fact that Married Life was shot in color and takes place in 1949, the primary difference is that the blue-collar marriage in Tarr's black and white movie is obviously problematic, whereas
the bourgeois one in Sachs's appears healthy, but fissures lie beneath the surface.
That doesn't make either film a drag. Married Life, for instance, is humorous
in a sardonic sort of way. Chris Cooper's Harry and Patricia Clarkson's Pat are
joined by Rachel McAdams as Harry's mistress, Kay, and Pierce Brosnan as his drinking buddy, Richard. For the story's outline, Sachs and Oren Moverman (I'm
Not There) turned to John Bingham's 1953 novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven. At
The House Next Door, Keith Uhlich reveals that Bingham, a former spy, was the
basis for John Le Carre's George Smiley character. Married Life eschews espion-
age, but there's plenty of suspense, i.e. Will Harry kill his wife or not?
The Allens and their charming "fissures"
In the case of Prefab People, murder never rears its ugly head, but Tarr builds suspense by beginning at the end before doubling back. Nonetheless, he and
Sachs come to the same conclusion: some people are fated to stay together.
Unlike the well spoken duo in Married Life, however, Judit Pog/*ny's Feleseg and R/>=bert Koltai's Ferj (a real-life couple) don't mince words. She: "You drink too
much." He: "You talk too much." The film has a few comedic moments, too, like when Ferj tries to explain the difference between capitalism, communism, and soc-
ialism to his blank-faced son. In his view, communism is the height of perfection.
While Married Life is stylish and controlled, a cross between Far From Heaven
and AMC's Mad Men, Prefab People, result of a 10-day shoot, feels loose and spontaneous. This may surprise those familiar with Tarr's recent work, although he still films primarily in B&W. In 2006, the Northwest Film Forum screened Damnation (1987), Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), and S/*t/*ntang/>= (1994). All three contain some of the most mesmerizing long takes in movie history. In his early efforts, on the contrary, he invades his cast's space via handheld camera (Tarr makes little distinction between facial and landscape topography). Along with Prefab People, the NWFF will be showing Family Nest (1977), The Outsider (1980), and Almanac of Fall (1984). (Tarr's latest, The Man From London, remains without US distribution.)
Here she comes again / she's my best friend's girl.
Jonathan Rosenbaum (The Chicago Reader) compares Tarr's early-'80s output
to John Cassavetes-and the director expresses admiration for the "personality"
of Cassavetes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Jean-Luc Godard-but I was re-
minded more of Krzysztof Kieslowski, circa 1966-80. Both Eastern European dir-
ectors, in their younger days, had an empathetic interest in the lower class. Kies-
lowski never lost his empathy, but as he moved from Poland to France, his char-
acters, like Ir/(R)ne Jacob's opera singer in The Double Life of Veronique, grew in both income and stature. They also became more conventionally attractive (see Juliet-
te Binoche in Blue and Julie Delpy in White). The same cannot be said of Tarr.
As for Sachs, it's too soon to say whether his filmography will favor one in-
come class over another. Granted, Rip Torn, star of the Sundance Grand Jury
Prize-winning Forty Shades of Blue (2005), plays a moneyed record mogul, and Sachs's debut, The Delta (1996), concentrates on a comfortably middle-class
teenager, but less affluent folks are often floating around the periphery.
As a dedicated follower of the domestic drama, I found the temptation to
establish links between these two films irresistible. In truth, though, they're
marked by more differences than similarities-except for that unhappy mar-
riage thing. Neither Prefab People nor Married Life rivals Who's Afraid of Vir-
ginia Woolf? or Scenes From a Marriage in the most memorable matrimony-as-
warfare sweepstakes, but both belong on the short list of worthy runners-up.
Elliptic and Unbridled: The Early Films of Bela Tarr runs at the Northwest Film
Forum from 1/8 - 30. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Avenue on Capitol
Hill between Pike and Pine. Married Life opens on 3/21 at the Guild 45th. For
more information on the Tarr retrospective, please click here or call 206-329-
2629. Prefab People images from David Bordwell's Website on Cinema and
the NWFF, Married Life images -(c) Copyright Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.