Prefab People (review)
Bela Tarr’s gripping verite drama about a working-class couple in 1982 Hungary is so painfully real that it almost becomes unendurable — the strife and the stress of their relationship will leave you thoroughly wrung out whether you recognize or share their problems or not. After an intense opening scene of a screaming argument during which the husband (Róbert Koltai) storms out of the little apartment he shares with his wife (Judit Pogány) and their two little children, Tarr flashes back to explore what brought them to that point. It’s a litany of depressingly universal woes: she gets no relief from her endless housekeeping and childrearing chores while he goofs around with his friends; she can’t turn on the TV without the kids clamoring to watch what they want while he’s off having philosophical conversations with his friends. Her sobs of anguish and halting attempts to explain her pain are met with his stony incomprehension in long scenes raw with grief and bitterness, and there’s no grand resolution, only dismal, repetitious routine that offers little hope of change. Not a fun film, but certainly an impressive one. The picture is not in the best shape — dirt and scratches and the like have been carried over from the black-and-white print — but it does not detract from the film’s power.