Admirers of the films of Béla Tarr insist that his work is among the greatest of the greats and that his profundity is the last word in profound. Well, if you measure these things in terms of crushing depressiveness, unrelenting nihilism, and a pace so slow that fungus could grow on it, then all this is true. It strikes me as imitation Bergman — with extra helpings of misery and no sense of humanity. I was introduced to Tarr’s work through Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), which I actually kind of liked — with the proviso that I’d never want to see it again. Then came the punishing 450 minutes of Satantango (1994), which I refused to give a star rating and which is about as much fun as you’d expect seven-and-a-half-hours of muddy mulligrubbing to be. After slogging through The Turin Horse (2011) — ostensibly Mr. Tarr’s final film — I swore off, but was tempted back when Almanac of the Fall (1984) came my way. Not only is it Tarr’s only color film, but it had a reasonable 119 minute running time.
I can’t say I connected with Almanac of Fall any better than I did with Tarr’s other films, but I did find it more interesting from a technical standpoint. Tarr doesn’t just shoot in color, he shoots with color. The film has a distinctive look attained mostly through using colored lighting to — on the whole — split the frame into a shade of orange (representing autumn?) and an icky green that’s rather like looking through a dirty aquarium. This is augmented by placing floor-level white lighting behind furniture to accentuate the set’s sagging wallpaper. There is also occasional extra lighting on — or in — porclelain fixtures (like the bathtub) imbuing them with an unsettling glow. (David Lynch used this same effect in one scene in Mulholland Drive.) It may mean nothing, but it certainly adds to the movie’s overall disturbing atmosphere. There’s also an interesting scene where Tarr taps into his inner Busby Berkeley (in “Lullaby of Broadway” mode) shoots a scuffle through a glass floor. In other words, I found this more intriguing technically than most of his stuff. But beyond that…it’s more of the same. In short, it’s a couple hours spent in the company of unhappy people you’d probably prefer not to know.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Almanac of Fall Friday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com