Satantango

Satantango ★★★★★

The genre is Eschatology. An isolated, gray corner of the Communist world spirals into squalor, its inhabitants sliding out of all sense of community. (This movie belongs, for me, in vanishingly exclusive company: Movies In Which Every Single Character Is Insane And My Oh My Is It Glorious.) This description, plus the movie’s reputation for marathon long takes, might make you expect something dreary and humorless, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The perspective is mordant, as others have said. Infidelity and greed are observed with a jaundiced eye. And the characters are funny, too. You don’t know how hard you can laugh at a quip until you’ve waited four hours for it.

It’s no use trying to sell people on this movie if they’re not already intrigued, though. I’ve been well-prepared for Tarr’s style, somewhere on the nexus of Tarkovsky, Akerman and Tsai Ming-liang. Exaggerated stillness, meticulous full-length presentations of mundane activities — I love all the stuff that’s absent from commercial movies. I even counted the shots here. One hundred fifty-six, if I’m not mistaken. (And I could be. I counted in my head. Besides, there might be a hidden cut here and there, but I’m more than happy to give Tarr the benefit of the doubt.) So, if you’re into cinemetrics (and who among us isn’t?), that gives us an average shot length of more than two-and-a-half minutes. I’m pretty sure that’s the longest for any movie I’ve ever seen, not counting Russian Ark and Rope. And the character of the shots — weaving between extreme close-ups and complex panoramas, slowly pulling into some detail or other — is itself magical. This is the stuff of resounding poetry.