Satantango

Satantango ★★★★★

I had very high expectations for this and yet it was still even more superb that I could possibly imagine.

When watching films, some become personal milestones; these are the ones which stick with you long after you see them, whose original viewing you'll never forget and make you see cinema in a new light. For me, films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Grave of the Fireflies and The Tree of Life have become these milestones in my life. I finished watching Satantango just over an hour ago and it already feels like a significant milestone in my cinematic journey.

Satantango is a film about life through the bleakest of viewpoints. It's story about the return of a supposedly dead man to a collective farm in Hungary around the end of the Cold War is not one that seems so incredibly rich but director Bela Tarr brings themes and characters in abundance. The villagers are characters whose lives are shown through realism and the pessimistic world they inhabit. Satantango is not a film about joy and as such, our characters suffer even as they dance and celebrate. This bleak, harsh reality is beautifully captured and speaks to universal truths which keeps Satantango grounded as events spiral out of control. As someone who appreciates bleakness and realism in cinema, this is the type of film I really dig and one which shows it both effectively and differently to most films.

The substance may be brilliant, but the style Bela Tarr brings is even more astonishing. Satantango is an extreme movie; not in content but in structure. At over 7 hours long and told in a slow cinema style, the film seems like tedium. However, it is completely engrossing. I watched the film in 1 sitting (with breaks after chapters 3 and 6 for food) and became hypnotised about 15 minutes in. Every shot seems to last a few minutes but by doing this, Tarr captures every moment of our character's lives and more importantly, builds their world and our belief in it more effectively than if filmed normally. The shots are not always tracking shots as I anticipated; plenty are static shots where neither camera nor character moves for a few minutes. Yet despite this apparent difficulty, I was never bored, in fact I was hypnotised, unable to take my eyes off the screen. I could have watched this movie for twice as long and still be stunned by it's beautiful black and white photography. I will say that this was helped by my increasing viewership of slow films which I've done by watching more works by directors like Tarkovsky and by watching silent films which are usually slow paced. However, even compared to the slowest films I've seen, this is the most leisurely paced of them all. The story could have been told in half the time but I suspect it would be nowhere near as effective. The story is split into 12 parts and told non-chronologically with different main characters yet it is all shot in a similar style, creating a cohesive whole for the entire narrative. Satantango's superb and brave cinematography enhances a story already rich and textured making it a film impressive in both it's narrative and it's technical accomplishments.

Satantango has left me shocked, stunned and surprised by the power of cinema in a way I didn't think would happen again. It was never boring, constantly captivating and rich in depth and beauty. I suspect I'll be thinking about this film for a long while even though I doubt I'll find time to rewatch it anytime soon. I think I'll try to find more Bela Tarr films to watch in the meanwhile.

I'm afraid this review has become a total ramble but unfortunately I have so much to say. To conclude:

Total masterpiece. All 7 hours of it.

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