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.