Satantango

Satantango ★★★★½

I read a recent interview with Béla Tarr shortly after finishing this film. He was asked if he had any idea that this magnum opus would last so long in the collective consciousness so many years after it’s release, to which he responded “Who gives a fuck?” He goes on to say that he can’t see into the future. This is what solidified this film, which I already knew was a masterpiece the second the closing credits began to roll, as a true work of artistic genius for me. Because Tarr, whether he knows it or not, created an entirely new language here, and I don’t just mean with the almost comical runtime. Every moment of this film is asking you to reconsider what you know of cinema. 

This film is divided into 12 chapters, with two intermissions. The beginning chapters establish particular characters and setting, but as we come to learn into chapter three, the film has an interesting way of allowing the viewer to reassess the narrative and characters we’ve been shown. Not only this, but quite literally *every* single shot goes on for much longer than what is “traditionally” seen as needed. Additionally, the plot is fairly sparse, and if put in the hands of a different director, could’ve been two and a half to maybe three hours. However, in these choices that Tarr makes, we are able to receive so much more atmosphere, thematic weight, emotional devastation, and cinematic bliss than if in the hands of anyone else. This is because the story itself is inherently tied to the formalism displayed; as pretentious as it sounds, this is about life, and all the mundanities, disappointments, and ambiguities that transpire as a result. To have this film run shorter, or present itself differently, would be a tragic mistake. 

But it’s not just the immaculate technicalities; gorgeous cinematography, masterful direction, and expert sound design that make this film. The characters are distinct and filled with detail, the story is enthralling and deeply moving in every emotional direction possible, the musical score is highly memorable, the dialogue is carefully crafted, and the themes themself are extremely thought-provoking and captivating. And I am never once lost in any of the pristinely successful attempts at juggling the tone and pacing; any time I feel Tarr might lose me, I’m again reminded of why I’m in the hands of a master.

Tarr exemplifies many sensibilities of some of my all-time favorite filmmakers, particularly Tarkovsky and Kiarostami. If you take the crushing atmosphere and thematic grandeur of Stalker, and the punishingly sparse landscapes and editing of Taste of Cherry, you’d have a scene from Sátántangó. Interesting too, as Taste of Cherry would come out only three years later, as if Tarr either predicted or was inspired by this virtuosic ability in Kiarostami. 

I feel a very similar way about this film that I did with The Tree of Life almost a year ago, wherein this mammoth of filmmaking almost feels entirely impossible for me to pin down, let alone articulate my thoughts about and assign a grade to. But, as is the nature of this app, I will settle with what I have here for now. I’ll leave you with this; if you do decide to watch this film, in no way should you feel pressured to watch it all in one sitting. As per usual with directors, Tarr does recommend that you watch the entire thing without interruption, but let’s face it; this is a 7-hour piece of slow arthouse cinema. It’s not even something that many cinephiles are used to. And like I said, it does come with two intermissions, so watch it in the way you feel appropriate. I personally watched it over three days, and to be quite honest, I would say it enriched my experience far more than if I were to stomach it all at once. I do plan on watching this in its entirety someday, though. I know now it’s more than worth it.

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