Reviews of Sátántangó
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“… And to the sweet sound of an accordion, the pub spiders launched their last attack. They wove loose webs on top of the glasses, the cups, the ashtrays, around the legs of the tables and the chairs. Then they bound them together with secret threads, as if it was crucial that from their hidden corners, they should notice every little move and every little stir, as long as this almost invisible perfect web was not damaged. They move webs around the sleepers faces, their feet, their hands. Then hurried back to their hiding-place, waiting for one of their ethereal threads to quiver to start it all over again…”
[voice-over from the movie]
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
Why do I feel that I’m inviting an anathema upon myself by rating this time- and mind-bending classic as a four-star film instead of the mandatory five? I admit it was truly an original piece of work, no question about it. And yes, the cinematography was breathtaking. Those slooow tracking shots were so evocative that they alone made the film stand out from the heaps of monochromatic art house films that earn their cult reputation by being mere antitheses to Hollywood narration.
But when the film was finally coming to an end, I didn’t feel enlightened by it in any way. I was expecting to gain a deeper insight into human psyche during those seven hours spent watching the film, but in the end I felt that I had learned nothing. Some of you might argue that it’s not relevant to “learn” by watching films but I do expect my worldview to be enlarged if I’m gonna spend several hours of my life concentrating on a piece of art.
However, I decided that I’m going to watch Sátántangó again to find out what I’m missing. Maybe it’s impossible to absorb the whole panorama of themes and characters Mr Tarr is depicting in one sitting. Be that as it may, I urge everybody in Mubi to grab a hold of this film and explore the depths it has to offer.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Recently I’ve realised how much people really miss out on. For instance, I realised how many more people have probably seen Tokyo Story than Humanity and Paper Balloons. And that that may very well be the reason it is so much more acclaimed. How many really give a film a chance before ultimately deciding? After all, Bela Tarr’s Sátántangó is seven hours long, its length gives it so much of its immense power. After seeing it, especially uninterrupted, a small number of people might realise that we need more films this length.
All Sátántangó means is Satan’s Tango. The tango is six steps back, six steps forward. The film is six chapters going backwards in time, six chapters going… forward. Yes, the film is just one big tango. It might be better if nobody knew that before watching it; imagine, the film would just sound like one big gimmick.
Anyway, that’s probably enough of the surface, now for the soul of the film. Tarr is constantly compared to Tarkovsky, simply because of long takes. While Tarkovsky’s is not completely bound to them, Tarr’s cinema can’t escape from them, it is dominated by length. His films are his for their incomparable look, at times achieving chiaroscuro. And he seems to know very well that the longer you look at an image the more power it has. He can’t survive without long takes surrounding him; that is why his films are so forceful. Stylistic radicalism is pictured as being fast and punchy, like Godard; few think of it as slow. What I’m trying to say is: could this be the New Wave of the future.
Okay: to be honest, it’s been really hard trying to write about Sátántangó, so I’ll just say that I think it unites the whole of humanity and analyses it under a microscope. The film isn’t political, moral, or anything. It’s a film not with a subject, but with a definition.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
In my opinion this is one of the greatest, most ambitious pieces of cinema ever made. The film goes so far beyond what what we’ve come to think of as a film that it becomes a true landmark piece of work. It’s really a shame that the film never made a wide enough impact when it was released and has drifted into obscurity status, but then again, it’s not plausible to think that a film like this would ever resonate with a huge number of people.
Indeed, Satantango could easily be written off as the most pretentious, indulgent arthouse film ever made. I mean, seven hours of some miserable bastards trudging through mud and getting drunk? Come on. Of course that isn’t everything that’s in the film, and even those sections can’t be simplified like that. Satantango completely justifies it’s length. When you watch it you have to completely forget all notions of how long a story should be told and in what way. The film invites you to enter it’s universe and actually live in the world for seven hours. Make no mistake, this is an EXPERIENCE.
The basic story of Satantango could easily have been condensed into a two hour film by another director, but to say it would be completely different is an understatement.This film gains everything from it’s pace. The first four hours are essentially set up. Even when the main action does occur in the final third, it is never treated as a huge pay off after a slow build up. The non-chronological chapters introduce us to the characters one after another, building slowly to the film’s centerpiece, Chapter 5, which sets off the action in the final third.
This section is immensely powerful and allows us to see how truly hateful the film’s community is. An essay I read on this film described the chapter’s main character, a little girl named Estike, as vile and a psychopath. I strongly disagree with that and find Estike to be one of the few characters in the film with any actual innocence. She is actually a tragic and pitiful character and most of her tragedy comes from the fact that she is a product of the fucked up environment that the villagers have created. The narration that closes the chapter is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing i’ve ever heard.
That in mind, Satantango is mostly known as a visual experience and it most certainly is. The opening and closing scenes of the film (which are made to come full circle by the ominous sound of bells) are indescribably haunting and every shot in the film is composed like a ballet. I long to see this film on the big screen and am praying that it one day gets another screening in London. Simply put, Satantango is one of the greatest and most unique films I’ve ever seen and probably the best film of the nineties. A true masterpiece.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
You know that feeling when you just finished a marathon? You finished in the 10th percentile, but you don’t give a damn, you finished damn it, so screw your ex-girlfriend who said you’d never amount to anything. Well, I don’t know that feeling either, but I think that’s the feeling I’d have after completing Sátántangó. Seven long — but highly gratifying — hours were spent on the couch, eyes glued to the picture mover (but not in succession, I had to keep my sanity somehow.)
Sátántangó is comprised of 12 chapters (to call them vignettes would be an understatement). The first six moving forward story wise, but following taking on another person’s POV. Until doubling back, and following the same people only in reverse. The structure borrows from (OMG!) the tango: six moves forward, six moves back. It’s very interesting, can only be taken true advantage of in a film of this length. It’s the only way you really get to know the characters.
One such chapter in particular really struck a cord with me. Felfeslők (Those Coming Unstitched) follows Estike (Erika Bók) around on a short tale of betrayal and death. Being coerced by one, who we can only assume is her older brother, she’s lead to believe planting money underground and watering will grow the money tree. She returns a few days later and discovers the money was taken, and used by aforementioned older person. Her face to discover the betrayal, without reason might I add, truly saddened me. Of course she can’t fight back, so her only way to cope is to inflict pain on a poor cat. And that’s a key issue in the film: bullying. The bigger powers take advantage of the little, for no reason whatsoever, only because they can. It’s quite reminiscent to the Bush Doctrine, except America always has a “reason.” I’d never go as far to say that America’s evil goes as far as the Soviet Union’s, but it sure as hell gets close. I’d hate to digress into some rant about America and our perverse concept of American Exceptionalism, but I can’t help but to find some allegorical similarity whenever a film takes on politics. It kills me just to think of Dragan Marinkovic’s satire The Bizarre Country (1988, Yugoslavia). If you can manage to find a copy, I highly suggest that film. Anyway…
It’s hard to be coherent when writing about a film you’re still digesting, but I do know this: Sátántangó is a film experience that can’t be matched. There are moments of boredom, do not get me wrong, but that’s more to do with Tarr’s need to stay stagnant on a particular shot, and all I want is for him to move on. I know why he does it, and frankly, commend his bravery, but after five hours, sometimes all you want is for things to progress. Save for that little complaint, this is a damn fine film, and deserves all it’s deification.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
I never thought it would be possible for a slow moving, seven hour film to completely and utterly enthrall me, but I was proven very wrong upon viewing SÁTÁNTANGÓ. The signs of a great film are that it allows you to feel a range of emotions, takes you outside of your own view of the world, and does so with expert technique. Mr. Tarr’s film does so. The scale of this film is almost simultaneously large and small. For it focuses on a select group of people, for the most part confining them to the small village in which they reside, yet it touches on a wide spectrum of human issues. The first eight minutes of the film follow a herd of cows as they exit the empty village. This is meant to parallel the journey of the film’s characters as they’re prodded and manipulated into ideas that will only do them harm.
The film’s most heartbreaking sequence follows a young girl. She is tricked out of her savings by her brother, neglected by her prostitute mother, and feels alone in the vastness of the world around her. Out of a desire for some sort of control, she tortures and kills her cat. Yet another painstakingly real portrait of man’s condition.
VIsually, this film is stunning. Though there are very few cuts, the hypnotic tracking shots and gorgeously framed scenery invites us to inhabit the world of these people, forcing us to empathize with individuals we may not care to empathize with.
It seems like a daunting film, and at times it may be, but it’s ultimately a rewarding journey and a film that needs to be seen. I can only hope that its release on DVD will give more cinema lovers a chance to experience this film. For that’s exactly what it it is. An experience.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
If there was one film I could bring with me to a Desert Island, this would be it. Every viewing experience for has always been different, something very few films a quarter of its length could achieve. For the 2 years I’ve owned this seven and half hour film on DVD, I’ve seen it 5 times; the first four times it took me 2-3 days each time to watch the film completely (in between each disc is an intermission, and my intermissions would vary from 6-12 hours at a time, I took naps). But the 5th time I saw it, I dedicated one whole day to watching it. And it was this viewing where everything finally came together for me, what was actually going on, and who was who. for a seven and half hour film, it contains a nonlinear story (as the title suggests, the structure is 6 steps forward, six steps back; so 12 chapters all in all); add to that about a dozen characters, so it can take awhile to get a grasp of everything. It is a mammoth work, well deserving of its reputation, yet it’s not really a test of one’s dedication to cinema: aside from its length and its shooting style of black and white unedited takes, the story is actually accessible (Van Sant used a similar structure in Elephant), and with characters you can relate to. It’s set in small farming town at the end of communism, all the workers have given their final pay and plot against each other, only to have a Messianic figure (thought to be dead) come into town and play all ends against the middle. From the film’s opening shot, containing the most well directed cows I have ever seen; to the film’s metaphorical and literal black out at the end, it’s an unforgettable experience.
One last thing I just want to mention is that on my initial viewings of the film, the sections involving the town’s unhealthy doctor felt the most over extended, but as I viewed the film more, those sections gradually became my favorite, the black humor became more evident for me and when the film reaches its end, I came to realize how central the doctor was to everything. Oh, and what an amazing performance by the film’s composer, Mihaly Vig, as the Messianic figure Irimias, he’s really a commanding screen presence.
I’ve realized it’s best to spend a day with this film to really experience its full impact.