Panelkapcsolat (1982) (aka The Prefab People)
“What about those who are away for years? They never see their kids. The kids grow up with no dad. They grow up and the dad gets them ready-made “
After watching films like Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and Hyderabad Blues 2 (1998), I had come to a kind of conclusion that films about marital life are and even have to be necessarily lengthy in order to depict relationships falling apart bolt by bolt. But Béla Tarr’s masterful venture The Prefab People brutally shatters that perception. The film is so masterfully crafted that I was afraid that Tarr would have to have a pathetic showdown in order to wrap up the film within 80 minutes. But gladly, one couldn’t have asked more after watching what Tarr delivers. He lets the film gradually evolve instead of providing it narrative momentum (but never without a direction). Watching The Prefab People, one can see why Mendes’ Revolutionary Road doesn’t exactly succeed.
The Prefab People is Tarr’s fourth feature and one can clearly see Tarr maturing as a filmmaker. He intelligently avoids all the mistakes of his previous outings (which were pretty good themselves) and makes it seem like a grand culmination of a chain of dress rehearsals. He substitutes the extreme verbosity of Family Nest (1979) with self-sufficient images. He sheds the self-indulgent meditation of The Outsider (1981) and makes a film that is universal in its appeal and as personal in its content. He avoids the complex mise-en-scene he employed in his mediocre single-shot adaptation of Macbeth (1982) and in exchange develops a keen sense of shot composition and cutting. One can virtually see where Sátántangó (1994) gets its pitch-perfect atmosphere from. But in spite of the trademark style of the director, The Prefab People is very much a cinema vérité film. It wouldn’t be a coincidence if one was continuously reminded of Cassavetes while watching this one. The resemblance is most glaring in the scene at the party, which has to be experienced to be believed.
These are beautiful characters and so are the actors. To use a worn out cliché, Tarr does not take sides. Both the husband and the wife have their own visions of what happiness is. Just that one is evidently naïve and the other is actually romanticized. But the masterstroke of the film is the Kubrickian theme of man and machine that Tarr blends in this outwardly boring suburban life. And just like the American genius’ style, Tarr controls his décor, landscapes and film equipment to provide a literature-free rendering of one of cinema’s most favorite themes.