Béla Tarr’s 1979 black-and-white drama, Family Nest is an impressively poignant film about a scarcely, close-knit, verbally, venomous family of six living in a tiny apartment in the Communist land of Hungary. Being that this was one of Tarr’s first films, it reeks of bleak insight of the everyday life of a family struggling to live together. It’s similar to 1987’s Moonstruck except it’s not in a big New York Apartment with an Italian family yelling over Loreta’s love life during an early morning breakfast. Tarr gives us an uncomfortable, let’s-get-cozy, spiteful Hungarian family quarreling in a tiny apartment at a tiny dinner table. It’s as if one is dying of asphyxiation without even realizing it. For long moments at a time, it’s as if you were trapped in an elevator surrounded by a ceaseless shouting match of animosity while plunging down into hell. The story involves a married couple, Iren and Laci along with their daughter living in Laci (the husband’s) parents house, along with his brother Gabor. Iren is insistent on finding a flat to live in, but with the housing crisis there are waitlists and limited options which ultimately lead to the demise of her marriage. It also doesn’t help that Laci’s father is a patriarchal nightmare to be reckoned with because he has zero respect for Iren’s capability of being a mother and a wife.
There’s a lack of sympathy for women in this film, enforced by the redundant monologues about getting out of a problematic living situation. It doesn’t get any better, when Iren brings a friend, Roma over for family dinner after a day of work at a factory. The parent’s disgust for Roma is nauseating because they have no problem voicing their horrendous emotions blatantly as she gracefully thanks them for their phony hospitality as she leaves for the evening. Of course, there’s the vile soul-crushing scene of the two brothers Gabor and Laci raping Roma in a dark alley as if it was a casual walk in the park, which ends with the three of them having a beer at the local pub. Tarr’s focus on humanity’s darkest hour is teeth grindingly grueling which invokes the need to curse at the ceiling while releasing a deep frustrating sigh into the atmosphere.
However, despite the brutality, there lays a subtle yet highly effective metaphor in a scene with Iren and her father-in-law as both work together to clue a glassed photograph. They clue the crack that’s split the middle of the portrait. The crack obviously points out the serious ideological divide the two must come to terms with in order to restore their damaged, antagonizing relationship. Nonetheless, Tarr draws out a beautiful moment between the two hostile souls by emphasizing his frame on the work at hand instead of cutting to a relished reaction shot. It’s bare bones, folks! And, not just by the jarring close ups and static push in shots, but there’s not resolution to this maddening monstrosity of humanity trapped in it’s most dire moment of enduring the hard times.
One of my favorite shots that encapsulates the essence of this film is Iren and her daughter riding a swing at an amusement park, while Laci sits drinking at a nearby table. The camera follows and nearly foreshadows the spiraling demise of an unstable relationship brought on by a wobbly world of patriarchal power (Laci’s father) dominating the household. You can’t help but feel the jarring sensation of claustrophobia running rampant while they enjoy a simple pleasure of excitement as it parallels they’re world spinning out of control.
It’s a difficult story to watch because there’s no moment of inspiration, no hope, nor miracle lurking around a spectacular cloud of magic, it’s just the cold, harsh, reality of life being unfair and cruel. Tarr neglects the superficial and embraces a pessimistic regard for humanity, making you want to weep gently into a soggy pillow of tears.