The Prefab People (Béla Tarr, 1982)
Hungarian Title: Panelkapcsolat
Béla Tarr's third feature The Prefab People is often considered the Hungarian's best out of his early documentary-like fiction films. The film is a concise and personal look on a dying marriage in the midst of a socialist country on the verge of impending commercialism. Tarr's palette consists of residential buildings, smoke belching factories, dance clubs, and of course, the harshly claustrophobic interiors of a middle class flat which houses the couple and their two young children.
A celebration (consisting of a musical band playing a joyous melody) preempts the film sarcastically. Right after the final notes of the joyous song ends, Tarr pits his audience immediately on the hopeless marriage by introducing the couple in a point of discordant intimacy. It's something you'd rather not see. The husband (Robert Koltai) suddenly storms inside the flat, grabs his things and tells the surprised wife (Judit Pogany) that he's leaving them for good. Sounds of weeping and wailing ensue after as the wife begs the husband to rethink his decision. Tarr abruptly ends the sequence, by showing something that seems a bit sweeter, the couple's ninth anniversary. We really don't know if the anniversary precedes the dramatic introductory sequence or if that was after the husband has finally returned to the begging wife. The celebration turns sour when the wife suddenly decides to use the anniversary as an avenue to nag on the husband's domestic inadequacy.
It's not really an engaging film. It's more depressing than revealing. The couple come and go ending every bit of something good with an opportunity to disagree. A vacation turns sour when the husband suddenly decides to visit a friend and becomes unaware that he has left his wife and children for about an hour and a half. When he shows up, he gets a verbal lashing from the nagging wife. The film is basically a repetition of scenes wherein the couple would lash out in disagreement. It's obvious that they are both in love with each other, but perhaps due to some societal or psychological reason, they always end up in conflict.
Depressing, repetitive, taxing and sometimes unwatchable due to its saddeningly intimate content, The Prefab People however showcases unmeasurable talent from the young director. His camera captures the emotional angst as it transforms from pleasant and normal relations to erupting and bitterly unbearable domestic drama. In one fascinatingly done sequence, Tarr begins by catching the couple enjoying an entertainment show which leads to a night of frenzied dancing. Tarr then lets time pass by, catching the husband in drunken ecstasy singing songs to pass time as the wife downs a glass of liquor, letting her tears out in the film's single most honest image. It is in that melancholic scene wherein Tarr lets alcohol dominate celluloid, catching the characters in their most sincere and their most quiet repression of pent-up emotions.