Satantango ★★★½

If this appears to be a canonical "masterpiece", then I'm only at an objectively appreciative remove, because Tarr's languid compositions make for a rather taxing experience. There are sequences here—the eponymous dance in The Job of the Spider II, the composed zooms in Knowing Something, the climactic moments in The Circle Closes, whose effect would be just as compelling if trimmed in half. Is it contentious to say that about this heralded film? I don't think so.

There's depicting the everyday actualities of people, and then turning that non-progression into exhaustive tedium. It's only because Sátántangó is hailed as an innovative tour-de-force, that I'm responding with a sense of demotion here. For years, I'd intended to see if this was worth the visionary hype, and after a blind-buy of the 3-disc Artificial Eye set, it merely seemed compelling at best.

Or perhaps an expensive 7½ hour canvas cannot sustain this unhurried approach. I'll admit that Tarr has created some truly mesmeric segments of minutiae: the first lateral pan of the cows wandering by mud is a perfect thematic cornerstone, while the 360° take of Futaki, Mr. Schmidt and Mrs. Schmidt in slumber (aided by that gorgeous accordion score) hits a moment of unerring transcendence.

In addition, the entire barren pasture of a bog-ridden Communist Hungary is suitably inescapable. (Even with its rectangular, condensed 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the pared beauty of its decaying interiors has not waned. Imagine if this took up widescreen.) The sound work is also exquisite; from Irimiás and Petrina walking on soil, to Estike rolling on creaky floorboards with her cat, and the metronomic household clocks, seeming just as heightened as its pervasive nihilism.

Still, the main narrative is surprisingly paltry for its belabored runtime, and mostly depends on Irimiás' presumed-dead manipulative returnee to give the villagers their "salvation". (It's almost as if The Doctor searching for fruit brandy, or Kraner considering to steal the money, are an afterthought towards the other lost souls.) What transpires between everyone else is fairly engaging; Irimiás Gives A Speech is delivered with a mix of earthy charisma, calm persuasion and con promises by Mihály Víg, and I concede to being moved by Éva Almássy Albert and Erika Bók in bleak close-ups that suggest a world has forgotten them.

As for all cat lovers, the extended sequence where Estike uses her frailty to "take control", is as difficult to watch as anything committed to celluloid. Which I'd also attribute to her inculpable nature in Comes Unstitiched, and how the "moneystalk" coin burial is ruined by her brother. That's essentially the catalyst, and ravaged misery is compounded in a way that evinces its theme of desolation, when Estike staggers home in the nighttime rain.

The ultimate trajectory is an effective and lacerating one. As Hungary's agrarian villagers have sauntered through so much terrain, yet are nowhere closer to their own salvation. Few ideas are more gruelingly imposing than that. Yet with the lofty recognition this has received, and dividing a handful of the twelve chapters in such a drawn-out manner, I'd be lying if my enthusiasm didn't drop. A leviathan undertaking from Tarr, and often somberly unforgettable, but also has lengthy sequences of insufficient variation. It's been done and dusted.