This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tentin Quarantino ☭’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This didn't really click for me until the final segment with the doctor who is fooled by the sound of bells which he assumes are divine, but are really coming from just some guy, which mirrors the main throughline of the film when Irimias returns to the villagers as a Christ-like figure with a plan to save them from their wretched lives. He later dupes them into taking all their money and sends them off to perform labor at the behest of the state. They, too, were fooled by thinking something was divine when it was not. These are characters so desperate for someone to come and save them, yet unwilling to do anything to save themselves. Only Futaki refuses to listen to Irimias in the end, going off on his own path, back to his old life of squalor. He awakens to the sound of imaginary bells, still desiring salvation to come but refusing to seek it out on his own. Irimias wields control over the other characters similarly to how the girl wielded control over the cat. She fooled the cat into believing she was going to provide life-sustaining food, much in the same way Irimias has fooled the villagers into starting a commune to grow life-sustaining food.
If there is one criticism I can level at this film, it's that there's no practical reason for it to be 7 hours and 12 minutes long. About 4 of those hours is the first act, and I believe at least one hour could be cut, perhaps even two or three, without losing anything of significance, not in terms of theme, mood, atmosphere, story, character, or anything. The length is born from indulgence rather than necessity, but that doesn't stop the film from being a masterpiece. The cinematography and music are (forgive the pun) divine.
The film is abjectly anti-authoritarian, suggesting the people's plight was brought on by war (the authoritarian figure of the captain, as well as the bells being gone since "the war"), and it was this war that left the villagers with no hope and nothing to live for apart from the hope that someone will show up and change things for the better. This is further emphasized in Tarr's criticisms of nationalism and its anti-refugee stance:
The director is a vocal opponent of nationalism in its various manifestations, and of the “disgraceful” fence built by Viktor Orbán’s government to keep migrants out of Hungary at the height of the refugee crisis. A reproduction of a 2016 Tarr speech, written in Sarajevo and read out by activist theatre director Árpád Schilling at a pro-migration demonstration in front of the Hungarian Parliament, hangs near the entrance to the exhibition. In it, Tarr forcefully urges his fellow countrymen to change their attitude toward refugees, and to take them in as an absolute condition of human dignity: “We have brought the planet to the brink of catastrophe with our greediness and our unlimited ignorance… Now, we are confronted with the victims of our acts.” The second room of the EYE exhibition jolts us from the storm-blown tree to barbed wire and Hungary’s state border sign: a zone of territorial hostility. News footage loops on several screens, showing wartime devastation in the Middle East and clashes with border police – a reminder that the hardships of human survival are compounded in today’s Europe by the forces of politics and callous disregard.
This film feels either much older than it is, or much newer. Perhaps that is due to current world events relating so strongly to the events of the film, which mimic what is happening in many places in the world - particularly the United States, where the oligarchy's decades-long war on the working class has resulted in the desire for a savior to arrive and change things for the better, only for that false prophet to further rob the oppressed working people and further enrich the wealth class. It comes as no surprise that Tarr has been quoted as saying Donald Trump is "the shame of the United States". And he's right. In making Satantango, Tarr did not create a new world, he simply showed us what will happen if we remain on the path we're on, worship false prophets, and sit around getting drunk while waiting for things to get better.