Family Nest (Béla Tarr / Hungary, 1979):
(Családi Tüzfészek)

One searches for seeds of the voluptuous metaphysics of Sátántangó and Werckmeister Harmonies in the prosaic roughness of Béla Tarr's debut, the way one searched for Powell's heightened artifice through the mist of "documentary realism" in The Edge of the World. Mostly there are Loach's beans refried to address Hungary's housing crisis in the 1970s, complete with the overbearing patriarch's (Gábor Kun) miserabilist credo: "You think life is having fun?" It isn't until Tarr tilts down from the costumed opera playing grainily on the TV set and pans around the overlapping domestic squabbles bunched in the same tiny room that the eccentric aesthete behind the earnest reformist drops the first shoe, suggesting a gloss on "kitchen sink" drama along the lines of Albee's The Zoo Story. Stevens's The More the Merrier is another linchpin -- space in 1979 Budapest is a privilege, so the camera stays up everyone's nose to ensure there's never any. Two families are crammed in the grouchy factory worker's flat, where frustration is channeled into a steady barrage of familial bickering and strangulating tedium is the effect sought by the director. The lion's share of long-suffering soliloquies falls to the daughter-in-law (Lászlóné Horváth), whose monologue about her need to raise a family away from her in-laws is met with the social worker's fatigued sympathy ("We can understand, we can't help"); the depleting punchline comes when the father talks to her husband (László Horváth) with a straight face about how her plight is wrecking the "family harmony." The film's rigorous drabness becomes crushing not only to the characters but also to the director, who then drops the second shoe with a spinning camera at the carnival, where a purposely nauseating pop ballad ("Live gaily, trouble-free / Until birds no longer sing") precipitates a puke-capper. With Gáborné Kun, Jánosné Szekeres, Irén Rácz, József Korn, and Jánosné Oláh. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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