FILMSPARKS — 50 years DFFB: Bela Tarr

It is almost impos­si­ble to explain why and when some­body becomes a film­mak­er. Usu­al­ly it hap­pens ran­dom­ly, and depends on the per­son. It is as unpre­dictable as an acci­dent, unstop­pable and unlearn­able. “Moments of learn­ing” nev­er stop. Some­times you come to under­stand some­thing because you were con­front­ed with your own stu­pid­i­ty. And some­times you need a lit­tle help from out­side. In 1975, I shot an ama­teur film on an 8‑mm cam­era. My social activ­i­ties put me in con­tact with a home­less fam­i­ly that had one child, and we became friends. They were squat­ting in the top floor of an emp­ty build­ing in a run-down area out­side of town. The order to vacate the premis­es came only a few days lat­er. In my out­rage at the sit­u­a­tion (which I still feel today), I decid­ed to at least doc­u­ment our shared sense of pow­er­less­ness.

And so, on a beau­ti­ful summer’s morn­ing, we wait­ed for the author­i­ties to come. Two offi­cials showed up along with fur­ni­ture movers, six police offi­cers and a growl­ing dog. The child was afraid of the dog and hid behind his moth­er. The par­ents looked pale as they held on to one anoth­er, and I held up my Sovi­et-era cam­era in defi­ance. The next thing I saw as I looked through the viewfind­er was a big hand that cov­ered the lens.  They tore the cam­era out of my hands and took me away to the near­est police sta­tion. As they dragged me away, I saw how the police yelled at my friends and pushed them aside in order to get into the flat and start the evic­tion.

I remem­ber the police sta­tion very well: plas­tic-cov­ered walls, steel chairs, the Hun­gar­i­an People’s Repub­lic seal behind glass and a sheet of press board used as a table. On the table was my cam­era, a present from my father on my four­teenth birth­day. They had tak­en the film out, but at least the cam­era was still there… But between me and the cam­era was an impass­able bar­ri­er: a huge police­man – huge to me, at least – who was there to keep watch of me. The weath­er that day was was a lit­tle too hot for the police­man. He scratched his stub­bly chin and scowled down at small, skin­ny me. Every now and then he impa­tient­ly ran his hand through his oily, frizzy hair. Drops of sweat were soaked up by his col­lar and trick­led down­wards behind his tie. All of the sud­den he grunt­ed, went over to the win­dow and opened it. The result was ter­ri­ble: through the bars there came a rush of bru­tal­ly hot air – and thou­sands of flies. He sat back down next to the cam­era and start­ed hit­ting the table with his fist as if he were try­ing to get the flies. His neck mus­cles stood out, his pupils grew larg­er and he seemed to be shak­ing with rage. If looks could kill, I would not be here today. Next he turned on the radio to hear the news. Even­tu­al­ly he had enough and turned it off. I think he did­n’t have the nerve to hear the weath­er fore­cast. He leaned back in his chair and wiped the sweat from his neck in utter mis­ery. That was when I began to under­stand: I was sit­ting in front of two hun­dred and forty pounds of mis­ery. It was this thought that made the threat seem small­er and small­er. I pic­tured his wife and chil­dren. His gar­den with a cheap cor­ru­gat­ed iron fence and a pig sty with a pig they could slaugh­ter for a par­ty in Feb­ru­ary.

His col­leagues final­ly returned seem­ing very pleased with the work they had done: a suc­cess­ful evic­tion. They weren’t inter­est­ed in me and my cam­era. My guard left imme­di­ate­ly. One of them looked over at me, shoved my cam­era into my hands and threw me out of the Mosoly street police sta­tion with a brief: “Get out of here!”

I can still see the fam­i­ly sit­ting togeth­er on their fur­ni­ture in the bar­racks’ court­yard: the child cling­ing to his ted­dy bear in tears and the par­ents glow­er­ing at me as if I had aban­doned them, because I did­n’t help them at the crit­i­cal moment. And that was because of the sil­ly idea to film it all…
In the end, they were prob­a­bly right to feel that way.