The noirest of film noirs, Damnation marked a crucial turning point in the career of visionary Béla Tarr, best known for his legendary 1994 epic Sátántangó. (The titles of his films often carry a whiff of brimstone.) Set largely in a smoky nightclub — appropriately named the Titanik — in a coal-mining outpost drenched by incessant rain, its bleak streets populated with stray dogs, Damnation combines the aura of erotic obsession and abasement in von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel with the apocalyptic tone of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. A hard-drinking Titanik regular carries a torch for the bar’s cruel, Nico-like chanteuse, who enjoys humiliating her desperate ex-lover. To dispatch her threatening husband, the smitten man sets him up in a smuggling racket that sends him out of town. “Things will end badly for you, I’m sure,” the husband tells his rival, a prediction that proves all too grimly true. Shot in moody black and white, with slow luxuriant pans over rain-lashed rubble, Damnation is “brilliant … the movie with which the great Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr became ‘Béla Tarr’” (J. Hoberman, The New York Times).
Content advisories: sexually suggestive scenes, coarse language, mature themes