Satantango

Satantango ★★★★½

For as long as I've really been into film, which is probably the better part of a decade now, this is the movie I've wanted to see most. Coincidentally it's my 100th review here. For some reason up until Criterion put it on their channel it's been damn near inaccessible. I wanted to see it at the Sydney Film Festival last year but all the tickets sold out before I even knew of the event.

But now I've seen it. A 7.5 hour long misery-fest.
I don't think I paid enough attention to it. I don't think that's actually something I would ever be capable of doing. My mind wandered off here and there. I left it playing while I did stuff in the house because I assumed I wasn't going to miss much if I wasn't glued to the screen for a few minutes here and there.
But I did get a full grasp of the whole plot. I read a synopsis afterwards just to make 100% sure I got it all.

It's actually pretty impressive how little really takes place in this movie when you look back over it. It could, in all honesty, be 2 hour movie. It would of course be massively abridged and totally different - but I genuinely believe all the major plot points of this would fit into that runtime.
But that's not the point of the movie. The plot is small scale enough that it could easily have been delivered in a much more simple manner. Obviously the plot of this isn't everything.
I don't think the length is actually an issue. If I had to shorten it I wouldn't really know what to take out. I'm sure I'd end up cutting off scenes of people slowly walking over the horizons - but at the same time I really like them. I like the cows at the beginning. And the amazing shot of the owl. And people sleeping and going about their lives.
It's all so unbelievably intimate. Right down to the smallest details. I understand the characters as real people. I've seen them wash, and sleep, and clean up, and eat, and drink, and talk and... that's not 'cinema' - that's just life.

The acting is seriously good and often so intense. All that wind and mud and rain would make anyone sad. Simply being out on the Hungarian Plain makes it method acting. It's possibly the first time I've actually understood the significance of a scene being 10 minutes long. It doesn't feel like a gimmick here. It feels like a genuine necessity. Everyone is so invested in the scene. The choreography of it all flows so well. The slow pans add an extra layer of pain and misery to everything.

The scenes with the girl and the cat are amazing. Powerful beyond words.
The camerawork is some of the finest I've ever seen. The stark black and white is just... every close up of someone's face has so much force to it. All the pain in their eyes and wrinkles and beards is amplified so significantly that their faces alone set the mood for the scenes.

To me the most interesting thing about this is the repetition. Everything bounces back and forth (like a tango). Everything comes with multiple perspectives. I honestly can't tell if they somehow managed to hide cameras in the middle of scenes or if they just acted them out again and again, perfectly.
That idea of time not being linear draws parallels with Tarkovsky of course. That and the occasional scene where everyone stops moving for a little bit of fourth-wall-breaking mise-en-scène.
But Tarr does it to give more insight into what everyone experiences. It doesn't feel like a chore to watch a scene play over again - because you learn something new about it each time. It's like he's adding footnotes to his own movie as it goes along.

I'm hesitant to call this perfect or give it a full 5 star ranking though. I was absolutely floored by it, but that doesn't exactly mean I loved it. I loved parts of it. Many parts of it in fact. But it's long enough that it has many many more parts left over.
The sheer length of it is pretty brutal. The frequent shots where literally nothing happens for minutes straight don't help either. Well, they're a little less tolerable after 5 or 6 hours anyway.
And that's not to say it's boring - but it certainly isn't gripping either. It definitely isn't for everyone.

I'm very glad the day has come where I can write all this though. I don't think any other movie will pique my interests as much, and if they do I won't feel as hesitant about watching it.

I would call this mesmerising if I had to give it a word. Some of the most in-depth character studies ever put to film.

Monolithic, yet cozy.