louferrigno’s review published on Letterboxd:
Those that have followed me for awhile know that I tend to have a preference for films that have an unbridled intensity to them, generally ones that throw as much to me as possible in an effort to express every individual idea within the autuer's mind and moving along at a modest pace, at worst. As if almost to stymy that want in my journey to experience as much as possible that the great canvas of film has to offer, the slow cinema movement exists to present the autuer's ideas in the most minamilistic, obtuse form of narrative possible, of course presented in the most meditative way possible. I have experience this movement through one of the more accessible innovators (what a strange feeling to describe Tarkovsky as accessible), but none present a rite of passage as monumental and celebrated as Bela Tarr, specifically his hypnotic, 7-hour opus that bears the name Satantango, notable for being the longest feature that isn't Twin Peaks: The Return I have witnessed (at least, until the third highest-rated documentary takes that claim).
Separating itself off into 12 distinct parts, and making its intent very known with the 7-minute shot of cows traversing on a field, trapped within the confines of the camera. Tarr uses the camera as a means of showing the banality of life within the weak, poor Hungarian village, generally treating life with indifference and with little guidance. Its narrative is vague, lingering, but always taking care in showing the townsfolk as obedient to their daily grind, as well as the previously-thought-dead Irimiás, who becomes a prophet to these aimless wanderers after a tragedy leaves them as a vulnerable community. The thought of death seems irrelevant to all but two of our characters, yet the sheer pointlessness of living is clear in the pure nihilism of the film, as its plods and plods in its philosophical tone, never leaving its pessimism as the village stagnates, then falls into ruins.
As the title implies, there is a constant rhythm to this long challenge, ensuring that its drama is still engaging all while it presents itself as distant. Repetition is a key component, with multiple shots redone either from a new perspective or in a symmetrical copy (the 2nd and 11th part opening in very similar fashion being a case of the latter). The narrative overlaps within itself, showing the same event in either two or three new ways and giving insight towards the connective nature that it builds itself on. The most memorable example of this is through the long dance the barflies join in as a means of distracting themselves from the fear of Irimiás' return, introduced without context by the Doctor's brandy quest, then repeated with young hopeless Estike viewing the festivities ignored, then once more in full, the decadence now maddening as we observe it for ten minutes. This repetition shows the inevitability of the steps back all our villagers embark on within their shared tango, uncaring as to how or if any steps forward will be made, losing themselves in their disillusioned state.
Satantango is an endurance, anyone can warn you that without a bit of an eye. The many long takes help support this idea of pedestrianism in an existential way, as the passage of time that we waste in the act of walking or waiting makes itself intolerable once it its reflected back onto the viewer, and could be seen as with diminished effect in its runtime depending on whether you are 100% onboard with its presentation (the fact that this was a bitch to find and manage timewise over the two days I watched this shows that I was not at 100%). Having said that, its scope is more than impressive, letting its story that seems simple when you break it down become full through presenting it with the same weariness that life throws at you from time to time (hopefully, never as bad as the villagers here). Mihály Víg's music, ominous in its drones yet willing to give itself a familiar yet haunting sound, through the accordion melodies that pop up in about five different parts, is a perfect summation of a film that relies on the melodies of life, whether it be the ticking of clocks or the crazed warning that "The Turks are coming!". Despair not distilled, but overflowing, this is an achievement I greatly appreciate completing.
Side-note: I legitimately had to fast-forward a solid minute or two of the cat abuse. I know there's a point to it on the crazed reclamation of control in a life that has none and that it's uncomfortable for a reason, but...fuck me, it went past limits I didn't know I had.