Satantango

Satantango

As I'm sure many of you are aware, I'm a huge fan of the works of Béla Tarr (especially Sátántangó, Werckmeister Harmonies, and The Turin Horse). He is, in my opinion, the most insightful and distinct filmmaker of the last quarter century, even though his insights and lyricism are simply expansions of the fundamental melancholy at the heart of human existence. There is no hope in his films.

However I want to compel everyone who loves Tarr's work to seek out the novels of László Krasznahorkai. Krasznahorkai co-wrote Tarr's final five films, and Tarr's two most significant feature films (Sátántangó and Werckmeister Harmonies) are very faithful adaptations of novels by Krasznahorkai. In fact, they are so faithful (especially Sátántangó) that they are virtually indistinguishable from their source text. Krasznahorkai is a more depressing artist than even Béla Tarr, being an apocalyptic writer who seems to capture the pain of merely existing. His prose is extreme, using sentences that are often pages long (sometimes over 20 pages in length) and coiling in description. His descriptions are unmatched and I cannot do them justice. He seems to find angles and perspectives to write from that are deeply embedded in the human experience whilst simultaneously being otherworldly. László Krasznahorkai's books are tough reading, because of their style and depressing subject matter, but I implore you to seek them out. His works enrich what Tarr's films already have and anybody disappointed by Tarr's small filmography should seek out Krasznahorkai's bibliography to find more stories that capture the same spirit.

I had a lot of free time this weekend so read Krasznahorkai's award-winning book Seiobo There Below. This book contains seventeen short stories, not connected by a narrative but by universal thematic threads to do with artistry and melancholia. The first chapter ends with a half-page long sentence which condenses to "it would be better for you to turn around ... and die, for there is no point in the sublimity you bear ... breathe your last." This sets the tone of Seiobo There Below; it never really gets more uplifting. 

Across the many stories in Seiobo There Below, there is plenty of re-occurrences. There are people who attain their dreams, whilst also never attaining them. There are stories of artists whose lives mean nothing and become nothing (the unknown assistants of Renaissance painters, a heron which gracefully hunts, a lonesome hannya mask maker). There is obsessive restoration, people trying to recreate a history which we know nothing about. The feeling of being awestruck by art we cannot understand, so awestruck that we let all else leave us (an act as worthless as ignoring such beauty). We gaze into the infinite when it is trapped in a finite space.

Seiobo There Below is mostly set in the modern world, on a global scale, and finds there is nothing of value anywhere. Tourists and cultures collide, not learning from each other, but unifying in the knowledge that all is lost. People have talents, but only limited talents, and Seiobo There Below meticulously details laborious tasks. It highlights lonely people, those who have given up and accepted art as a substitute for something else. The way Krasznahorkai describes history makes it seem like it all led to nothing, for we know and understand so very little. The title implies a goddess going beneath the heavens and walking among us, witnessing the worthlessness of art and life's experiences. Plenty of chapters end on death in some way, clinging to the idea that you will be forgotten. Death is not shown as a grim, fateful end, but just as a moment as disregarded as any other. Seiobo There Below is a book to make you feel insignificant, and see life lived as just a long suicide.

So, yeah, I guess I just posted a book review on Letterboxd. A book review for a book that will never be made into a film. Ah well, just how it is I guess.

If I still haven't convinced you to seek out László Krasznahorkai's work, can I just say that, in my experience, it takes longer to watch the Sátántangó film than it does to read the Sátántango novel.

Please read my Werckmeister Harmonies analysis for more thoughts on Tarr and Krasznahorkai.

Darren liked these reviews

All