The Outsider
Béla Tarr, 1981, 122’

In an industrial town in Hungary, András, a music-loving young nurse, is fired for alcoholism. It's another failure in his life. As he wanders through the city, András drifts through his relationships, both social and romantic.


“Even if the angry, young filmmaker lashes out against the shortcomings of the socialist State, it is not the individual's connection to the political collective and its statist incarnation that furnishes his material. Without a doubt, The Outsider takes us to a disciplinary commission and to a talk on production standards, but the connection of the individual to the bureaucratic norm is of little interest to the filmmaker. This is because it is hardly cinematographic: a simple matter of shot and reverse shot within a neutralized space. The film’s center of interest is not Irén's confrontation with the housing employee, who explains to her that it is useless for her to come to him each week asking for an apartment when she will not in any case have the necessary amount of points to live for another two or three years. The employee expresses the cold logic of the system. Which is also to say, he is without affect, without the power to wound. Consequently, it falls upon him to receive her yet again the following week for the same ritual.”

Jacques Rancière1


“The narrative construction, based on the juxtaposition of heterogeneous scenes and spaces, adds to the general impression that there is no all-encompassing space that can accommodate these islands closed in on themselves, no ‘in-between space' where a common world can be founded.”

Sylvie Rollet


Jonathan Rosenbaum: I want to start by asking a very serious question ...

Béla Tarr: Jesus Christ!

Okay. When you showed me your TV version of Macbeth, which is obviously the turning point in your films so far...

I don’t agree with you, but...

No, well that will maybe lead to some interesting things, too. To me it seemed like a change that almost seemed like a conversion. There seems to be a difference between your first three features and the films that come after Macbeth .

I have to tell you, for me, no turning point. That’s important, for me, no turning point, no break. The first movie, Family Nest, we just definitely wanted to destroy the whole world and the whole filming and the whole society. And it was full of emotions and full of energy, and I really wanted to change the world. Afterwards I was shocked, the world didn’t change. I just finished my movie. You know, it’s really quite strange because the second movie, The Outsider, was the point when I started to think about how I could change the dramaturgical structure. That was my first experience to try and do something epic, you know, which is not drama. The third feature, The Prefab People, it looks like a game. I liked the two actors very much, and I just wanted to do something with them. Some improvising, just ten shooting days. Not a real movie. It just looked like a play or something like that. There was a very strong professor in the film academy where I was at the time, who told me I should try and find some literature, and I said okay, I read last week Macbeth. He said “Okay, doesn’t matter. Whatever you want.” Macbeth looks like my first movie, like a documentary, how they tell the text. We used Shakespeare, but how they tell the text – it looks like normal people talking on the street. And that’s the reason why I feel there’s no difference: because we destroyed literature, and put it on the ground so that it looks like a documentary about two people, and one of them wants power, and the woman divorces him – it’s very simple.

In terms of the idea of long takes and camera movement, to me it seems that with Macbeth you begin to take a kind of interest in the choreography of the camera.

It was before, too. In The Outsider, we did something when the people were standing in the market, and the closing scene of The Outsider ... That’s the reason why I don’t feel any break or turning point. For me everything comes from the previous movies.

Jonathan Rosenbaum in conversation with Béla Tarr2

  • 1Jacques Rancière, Béla Tarr, The Time After (Minneapolis: Univocal Publishing, 2013).
  • 2Jonathan Rosenbaum, Cinematic Encounters. Interviews and Dialogues (Champaign: University of Illinois, 2018)
UPDATED ON 19.09.2021