Satantango

Satantango ★★★★★

Thanks to Criterion Channel (and Arbelos for the wonderful restoration) I have finally tackled a "white whale" of world cinema: Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr's seven and a half hour slow cinema masterpiece Sátántangó. It is a film that demands your complete focus and that you don't think about focusing, not necessarily an easy place to get. If you can get yourself in that mindset and stay there it is capable of inducing a cinematic trance unlike anything I've experienced.

Tarr and cinematographer Gábor Medvigy glide the camera through gorgeous choreographed longtakes that give the film a uniquely powerful sense of time and location. With an average shot length of almost three minutes scenes aren't just allowed to breathe, they're meant to be bathed in. If someone begins walking down a path you can count on watching them shrink into the distance. If they begin to stare off into blank space expect it to be for minutes at a time. It all sounds maddening with a "story" that needs only an hour or two to be told and the rest being what could reasonably be described as filler (and boy is that a lot of filler).

The reality is that you spend more time hypnotized by the images and brilliant sound design than resisting reaching for your phone (though I did leave it off in another room just in case). The way you're forced to experience the events is of course the true purpose here. There is one sequence in particular involving a cat that begs you to turn it off and forget the whole ordeal but the pure distillation of existential despair can't be looked away from. Sátántangó is challenging, yes, but ultimately an extraordinarily rewarding experience.

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