Satantango

Satantango ★★★★

To begin with, I started this film on the 21/05 and have watched multiple films in between, which I know, is not how you’re supposed to watch it but it was purely down to not having the time as a pose to being bored, because that I was not. This is also very much a film I think you have to be in the mood for so I actually still feel like I got a lot out of this viewing by watching it the way I did. Disclaimer over, into the review. 

It’s miraculous a seven hour film exists at all, let alone a seven hour film that is considered to be one of the best movies of all time. Despite its daunting runtime, Satantango manages to be one of the best paced films of all time. This is especially impressive considering there is frequent repetition of scenes and moments from different perspectives and sometimes long takes discussing on a setting or character that can last up to 10 minutes. 

Here as we get an insight into the impoverished lives of the inhabitants of a Hungarian village after the effects of Communism, we fall deeply into the horrific cycle that is human suffering of existence. This is human suffering in its worst form because these people have nothing. They inhabit a bleak desolate land and seemingly have nothing to live for but here we are forced to live alongside them. This entire film feels like a descendent into the void of living. It seems Neo-realist in this sense as nothing much happens and everything that does has no meaning all pointing towards the horrible cycle of living that the world has forced us to endure. There is constantly a focus on mundanity and the severely simple actions of the characters. The camera plays a massive role in showing this. The camera lingers in a somewhat peculiar way, almost as if it’s forgotten to shift its focus. But you soon see the camera does not have a mind of its own, it knows what it is doing. We always get to see exactly what we need to see and hear exactly what we need to hear. There are only 156 shots in this entire film (in mainstream cinema shots usually last a second just to put it into perspective) so we truly get to see everything in its entirety, even if there really isn’t much to see. The camera truly has no sympathy. Additional tools such as the relentless ticking of a clock and being forced to see moments again from another characters perspective really drag you into this world where time is a trap that you can’t escape from. 

But what’s the point in all this? To show economic desperation in its most agonising form to make a social and political commentary? Basically, but it feels a lot more meaningful than that. Satantango is mundane, nothing is particularly spectacular and although we get a deep delve into a set of characters bleak lives nothing is really resolved. Well here Béla Tarr has done something quite remarkable, he is delving into the void, the nothingness. He makes nothingness interesting. We are even left at the very end of the film with simple darkness, forced to contemplate our own darkness and how the darkness of this cinematic world reflects that of our own. 

There’s so much to say about this film, as you would expect for a film of its size, but with its additional complexity it leaves a million things to analyse. I definitely got something from this viewing experience but I don’t know if I could watch this again and I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s one of my favourites. I definitely admire Satantango more than l actually like it but saying that I still really liked this film. It has also definitely made me want to delve into this director’s work more. 

I can now also say that I have watched a seven hour film.

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