A key turning point in Tarr’s filmography, the director’s first of five collaborations with novelist László Krasznahorkai signaled a visible shift in Tarr’s aesthetics, away from the verité realism of his early features and towards the highly stylized, black-and-white otherworldliness that would become his defining signature. The story is a kind of desiccated film noir, focusing on the efforts of a dour loner, Karrer, to steal back his estranged lover—a lounge singer in a funereal bar named Titanik—from her debt-addled husband. Karrer lures the husband into a smuggling scheme that will force him to leave town, but these well-laid plans soon go awry, and the characters play out their doomed destiny through enveloping layers of rain, shadow and despair.
“The rather bare story line…seems almost secondary to the formal beauty of Tarr's spellbinding arabesque around the dingiest of all possible industrial outposts. The near miracle is that something so compulsively watchable can be made out of a setting and society that seem so depressive and petrified.”
—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
“Imagine mating the quotidian impulses of early Jarmusch with Lynch’s baroque chiaroscuro in some of kind of post-Communist Double Indemnity, and you’d wind up not far from Damnation.”
—Michael Koresky, Reverse Shot