Satantango

Satantango ★★★★★

Afterthoughts: Finally. Finally I have taken the plunge and experienced Sátántangó, once and for all!

It was never a question of whether I wanted to watch this film or not, moreover it was always a question of WHEN! Well, as much as I would love to boast that I’d watched Béla Tarr’s seven-hour mammoth of a film in one day-consuming sitting, it’s very rare that such an opportunity would ever arise in my busy schedule, so therefore opted to watch it over the course of 4 days, on my way to and from work. This miniseries-like approach was a painful one, to say the least, sparking a hatred towards those inconsiderate and insignificant working hours in which I was forced to be torn away from characters I became totally invested in from the off.

Despite it epitomising the transcendental power that cinema can have as an artform and as a presenter of spectacle, this is not a film. Instead, It is a genuinely affecting life experience that every self-respecting, explorative film-lover, filmmaker, artist and human being should endure at least once in their short time here on planet earth. Sátántangó to the cinephile, is the Hajj to a Muslim; a pilgrimage one must embark upon to achieve true enlightenment.

It is natural for anyone who decides to begin this epic journey, of going into such a time-consuming cinematic commitment, to feel the immense pressure to enjoy, to appreciate, and as a grader of films, to ultimately serve up the full marks one would sure as hell hope to give, considering the temporal and physical investment one must make to indeed give their rating. However, within the opening half an hour, the gargantuan sense of relief hits home, as you know full well you are witnessing something special. Something unique. Something life-changing. Something that may never be constructed again.

For anyone thinking of taking on Tarr’s Goliath, I strongly recommend watching one of his shorter films, because like many of the genuine masters of cinema, you have to be ready for it. If you don’t quite feel as if you’ve dabbled in enough world cinema or art films, be patient and wait. If you know little or nothing about the filmmaking process, of film form and language: read; learn; experiment – but wait for Tarr until you’re ready. Werckmeister Harmonies is where I started, and that too was a monumentally impactful film experience. Béla Tarr is not as much a filmmaker, as he is a poet, so whatever you’ve learnt about character arcs and development and narrative structure and all those narrow-minded mainstream ideals far too many people and audiences interpret as law, forget it, and experience humans being humans, doing human things and feeling human emotions, as if you were in that very Hungarian village (which, by the way, could be anywhere in the world). Because practically every scene plays out in real time, you really do forget you are in fact watching a film and are not standing next to these real people.

After finishing this tonight and going for an evening walk, I had every intention to watch another film. I was all set up to watch Possession (1981) which everybody seems to be going on about recently. But I had a sudden feeling. Obviously, I was still digesting Sátántangó and will be thinking about it for many a week, or even months to follow, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch anything. It was almost as if I couldn’t bear the thought of watching another film again because whatever it was, would not compare to the sheer ambition, beauty, power and technical excellence of the one I’d just invested so much time and brain cells in. Then I noticed that since I started watching this on Monday, I hadn’t even watched a single film this week (which is almost unheard of, unless I’m away).

The next film I watch will probably be the new IT film on Saturday on the way back from a trip to Beamish (a wonderful ‘living museum’, which allows you to freely wander and experience a 1920s village, 1900s town and a 1940s farm, in which the staff are ALWAYS in character – it’s great stuff), so that’ll be a landslide-like shift in terms of film-to-film quality…

It’s hardly surprising that this is now what I deem the greatest film ever made! See latest update of my Greatest Films I’ve Ever Seen List.

Recommended reading: This wonderfully eloquent review/article/essay/emotional outpouring, found here on Letterboxd - letterboxd.com/elcochran90/film/satantango

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