Goth Fiddler on the Roof

Well, you’d think after watching 7.5 hours of the same film that I would have a more refined opinion about it, but I don’t. Sátántangó was easily the most intimidating film I’ve ever seen. It’s long, bleak, empty, mostly uneventful, and it might also be one of the most impressive displays of artistic cinema I’ve seen.

I watched Sátántangó in parts because watching it all at once seemed too foreboding of a task. Admittedly, my attention was mostly disengaged for the first half of the film, but when the second half began, so too did my investment in its story. I feel like, the more the story unraveled the more willing I was to submit myself to those droning long-takes. Having finished it and knowing where the story is going as well as characters, their motives, and what is to become of them, I oddly feel compelled to rewatch it all from the beginning to have a more all-encompassing and polished perspective. But by that same stroke, I also never want to watch it ever again. 

Sátántangó was visually a monochromatic gem. The gothic lighting and skillful set design are in a league of their own. Béla Tarr has such a unique and refined aesthetic that is ever present in every frame of the film. I do sometimes worry that he gets lost in his aesthetic and the rest of the narrative suffers from it. In fact, I think that most of the problems that I have with this film are a result of Béla Tarr imposing his aesthetic over functionality. Though I know Béla Tarr and many fans of Sátántangó wouldn’t disagree with my claim, they are nevertheless my honest feelings about this film.

Ultimately, there are lots of things that I like and dislike about Sátántangó, so trying to think of a numerical rating for isn’t as easy as I was hoping it would be. Ideally, I would have watched Sátántangó and simply saw it for the masterpiece that it is,and rate it a 10/10 and be done with it. but after a couple days of inner deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t think that this is a masterpiece, but it is a tremendous work of art.

So yeah, I don’t know where I land on this. I know I enjoy Béla Tarr’s style to some degree because I loved Werkmeister Harmonies, but Sátántangó is just so overwhelming, and I can’t tell if I’m overwhelmed in a good or bad way. It’s strange, because if someone were to tell me that this was their most favourite movie of all time, I would totally accept that. Likewise, if someone were to tell me that this was their least favourite movie of all time, sure, that makes sense to me.

I will finish by saying this:
At the very least Sátántangó should be a rite of passage for anybody who is a self-described lover of arthouse cinema. It will make you a stronger film viewer after having conquered it and all other films by comparison will seem far less intimidating as a result. While I cannot say whether I thought Béla Tarr was able to optimally utilize all 7.5 hours of his film or if I even do much as liked it, I can say with bolstering confidence that I am happy I watched it.

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