Satantango

Satantango

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Sátántangó is a force to be reckoned with. Clocking in at 439 minutes, the film is a moving painting at a snail’s pace. Moreover, Béla Tarr’s pessimism seeps through the images, as each is rendered in low-contrast black and white. The film induces a depression-like state in the viewer, where time is slowed and the world is bleak. These observations might come across as disparaging, but none of these things hurt the film. In fact, they are integral to its success.

Sátántangó is an elegy to rural Hungarian people in the wake of Communism’s collapse. It explores what happens when a community is collectively depressed and dehumanized. The result is a culture of desperation. The townspeople plot to escape the town, they gather at the bar for a frantic tango, and they allow themselves to be duped by the poetic strongman Irimias. On top of that, depravity rumbles under the surface. Alcoholism abounds. Sexual impurity is suggested. And in a defining moment of wickedness, a young girl murders her cat pitilessly. In most films, the girl plays the role of purity, but in Tarr’s film, she plays the role of villainy. It is a cold and tragic subversion. Sátántangó is about people struggling to recover their human dignity, but as time goes on, it becomes clear they have lost it for good.

Even still, Tarr manages to create a moving poetic vision. Sátántangó is infamous for its length, but the pacing is essential to the work. The film’s slowness achieves a unique effect, that of hypnosis, where you hang on every detail, soaking in the world and its characters unhurried. Additionally, the compositions are often striking, so it comes as a pleasure to absorb them slowly.

Furthermore, Tarr’s filmmaking is outstanding, especially in the service of creating the world. The cinematography glides through the film, taking in the monochromatic filth with a touch of the picturesque. Sátántangó’s grime is rendered gorgeous, as if it’s impeccable. The sound design evokes a drowsy rural environment, quiet, ethereal, with the constant patter of rainfall. And Mihály Vig’s accordion music haunts the film with its suffocating jollity. Because of this, the film’s world is atmospheric. From the very beginning, you know the town, and as everything unfolds, you continue to soak it in.

Sátántangó is a film that I deeply appreciated. I’m glad Béla Tarr forced me to slow down and be patient. I’m glad he took this much care to develop the world and themes. Ultimately, this was an immense work of art, one which rightfully earns its acclaim. That is all.

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