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You claim that the time after of the films of Béla Tarr is a time of “pure, material events, against which belief will be measured for as long as life will sustain it.”1 This claim would almost seem to be a celebration of Béla Tarr’s realism as one that disallows a fear of disillusionment. That is, we should not fear to be disillusioned if what we hope for is in fact to survive to prove our beliefs against the material world. Did you choose to write about Béla Tarr from a place of optimism? Is your celebration of realism here also a celebration of the real?
Writing on Béla Tarr was not my own decision. It was the commission of the publisher, because there was a retrospective, Béla Tarr at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.2 And so they wanted to have available a short book on Béla Tarr and even the length of the text was decided by them. But, of course, I decided to write it, meaning I was interested. My first intention was not at all to look at Béla Tarr from an optimistic point of view. That was not my point. My point was only to try to spell out the reason for the emotion that I could feel in front of a film by Béla Tarr. So my first intention was not really to make any judgment but just to tell what happened on the screen from my point of view. For me this only means that the very quality of Béla Tarr’s images was linked to his refusal to follow a certain mood, a certain mood about the end of communism, the end of illusions, the end of history. But I think that part of the beauty of the shots was linked to his attitude toward his characters, which means, for instance, that, for me, also it’s a choice.
I have some kind of revulsion toward a certain form of post-communist art as irony, parody, disenchantment. Of course, I tend to value the post-communist artists who don’t follow this mood. But the point is, if there is a choice it is my choice and it is true that my choice was to try to distinguish what happened on the screen from the mood of the stories that the film tells. This is why much of my book was about the relation between Krasznahorkai’s books and Béla Tarr’s films. Well, perhaps we will go back over this point later. So what about the real? Well, it means that what Béla Tarr does for me is turn issues of illusion and disillusion into issues of expectation, repetition, and change. And this is in a sense what realism is about. Realism is also about the fact of refusing to distinguish reality from illusion. I think there is a very false idea of realism as precisely sticking to the real and putting illusions aside.
I think that’s not at all the case and I think that in this respect Béla Tarr’s work reminds me of the work of a novelist, namely, Joseph Conrad. And Joseph Conrad will insist on the fact that illusions and reverie—all this is real.3 So from a philosophical point of view you can say that the attempts of those people are always only illusions and swindle etc. etc. But that’s not interesting for a realist artist. For a realist artist, there is no opposition between the real and the imagination. The imagination of the characters, their fancies, are part of the real. And from the point of view of the filmmaker, what is on the screen is a kind of conflict between temporalities: the temporality of expectation—the rain penetrating the bodies and the soul—and the possibility of a sort of deviation from a circular, repetitive time to a time when you draw a straight line to move forward. So this is what realism means for me...