It is often thought that your family will always stand by you when no one else will. If that is true, ask yourself this, what happens when you don't want your family to stand by you?
Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr early in his career was making films which revolved around the family. These film comprise the first half of his career, titles such as "Family Nest", "The Outsider" and "The Prefab People". Those films were very low key, they lack the stunning visual qualities of his later works such as "Damnation" or "Satan's Tango".
"Almanac of Fall" is the bridge between these two styles. It is also the first film I have seen by him in color, not his usual black & white.
The reason I mention family before is because recently I have been taking a class on John Cassavetes in school. The more I watch Cassavetes, sometimes I'm seeing the films for a second or third time, I can't help but see a connection between these two directors. Admittedly they take different approaches with characters, camera and their view of family, but underneath it all I see two men who make films about families and want to show you everyday life without glamorizing it.
Many of you may challenge that but please, watch "Family Nest" or "The Prefab People" and tell me if those movies don't seem to be about showing working-class Hungarian families in their struggles during Communism.
"Almanac of Fall" is really a startling film. If we watch Tarr's film in their chronological order we can see the emergence of a new style. As I said this film was shoot in color, but pay attention to the color patterns.
Something about the film reminds me of a ghost story. The choice of colors, especially the blues, seems very drab, the colors cast a hue over everything. This look suggested something depressing to me. You could almost sense the sadness that reeks within these characters.
The film is about an old woman, Hedi (Hedi Temessy) who lives in a big house with her nurse, Anna (Erika Bodner), the nurse's boyfriend Miklos (Miklos Szekely) and Hedi's son Janos (Janos Derzsi). Then there is a friend of Janos who will be staying with them, Tibor (Pal Hetenyi). Each of these people are waiting for the old woman to die.
You see when she dies Janos will get the house and her money and if Anna plays her cards right maybe she can get with Janos and get her hands on some of the money too.
What we really have here is a power struggle within the family. And this is where Cassavetes comes to mind. The biggest difference between Cassavetes and Tarr is, Cassavetes sees the family as something positive. Maybe that's because he is Greek and Greeks are use to big family gatherings, or maybe it's just a myth about them. But Tarr is Hungarian, he sees the family as something negative. He doesn't think the family can endure such hardships. Now where did this cold view of life come from? Probably from Communism. And as a Hungarian myself I usually find my sentiment much closer to Tarr than Cassavetes.
So what is "Almanac of Fall" really about? I think it's about new beginnings or remembering the past. I think Tarr is arguing life is meaningless, there is a vast emptiness in the world and in our lives. We are all trying to cling to something, to find something to embrace. I think the reference of "Fall" in the title is suppose to represent hope, a new beginning.
The film ends with the image of a wedding. It is the only time in the film we see the characters happy. Maybe there is hope in the world after all.
Bottom-line: Something different from Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr. The film can serve as a bridge between his early films and his later more experimental works. Here he is bringing the two together in a masterful, thought-provoking way which searches what is in our hearts and the meaning of family.