Satantango

Satantango

Everyone has a couple of films that serve almost as personal milestones. Films that make you re-evaluate how you view cinema and what the art form is capable of. This film is certainly one of those, and today was the day I decided to tackle this absolute behemoth.

To understand this work of b/w mastery you must allow yourself to dance the devil's tango. What I mean by this is familiarizing yourself with how Béla Tarr approaches the narrative structure of the film. It is divided into twelve chapters that figuratively move at the same pace as a literal tango. One step forward and two steps backward. Satantango also centers itself around a single event that retells itself through the lens of different members of the village collective - much like Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon. We attain new pieces of information little by little into this dreary, bleak nightmare of a landscape that Tarr ever so feverishly paints for us.

It's also worth noting that this is close to a perfect adaptation of László Krasznahorkai's novel by the same name - or so I've heard. I won't pretend like I read the damned thing, but I did a little research on who he is as a writer. He's an apocalyptic novelist who writes melancholy tales of human hellscapes - famously using sentences that can go on for over ten pages. Ring a Bell? People have stated that the novel takes less time to read than watching the adaptation, and I believe it. This film is extreme cinema, only in the sense of its seven-hour runtime. Something presented only as that may sound like cinematic tedium but let me be the first (although probably not) to tell you that this is not the case - Satantango is entirely engrossing. Every scene seems to last an eternity, which does well for the immersion into the colorless chores and lifestyle of these characters. Even more to its credit, I have seen two-hour-long films with severely worse pacing than this. It's a surprisingly leisurable watch, many thanks to its chapter structure.

Another important component to this is photographer Gábor Medvigy's b/w imagery. Satantango is stunning and the way Tarr allows his film to flow through his depressing artwork makes this pass by much quicker than it has any right to. What I'm desperately trying to say here is, this film might well be flawless in the sense that it fully accomplishes everything it sets out to do. The bleak surface drenches the inhabitants of the small village in everyday hopelessness. Every aspect of their existence takes a pessimistic standpoint which serves to create a very harsh reality that mirrors life in eastern Europe after the Cold War. Tarr transforms the hardened rural landscapes of Hungary into something disturbingly beautiful and wistful. His atmosphere mercilessly sucks all lifeform from its surroundings, and the ever-present presence of an oppressive force constantly looms in every scene. I would describe the look of the film as "a beautiful storm sent by Satan himself".

Slowly realizing I'm starting to overtly ramble in this review and have decided to stop. This film is special and one of the best I think I've ever seen. It's so hard to recommend yet I kind of want most people to see it - even if I fully understand that a vast majority will not enjoy this. "A b/w nightmare with lots to love for the whole family?" Yeah, we'll go with that.

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