Satantango

Satantango ★★★★½

Here comes a densely loaded Eastern European drama about a fallen society found in a Hungarian village. People play God amongst each other, and seek for control in a world that has ultimately abandoned them. Now, their entire town, composed of a few of them, are left to hound for scraps and deal with a year’s worth of money and a question of achieving happiness in a system that has failed them.

The total desolation and aimlessness pictured within the world of Satantango is crafted in a slightly unorthodox narrative structure and a sense of dread that covers all kinds of feelings. It is moody, dreary, comedic, sad, happy, and all the things you could feel in a 7-hour epic. The choice of narrative structure here: one that works in a semi-chronological manner, is built in a similar fashion as the source material of this movie. I liked how it managed to extract so many moods, but I didn’t enjoy the narrative structure as much. I think this form of exposition seemed uncertain at times, and disregarding all the serious long takes that populated this movie... I still found myself confused at the small portions of filler and underbuilt characters that moved here and there throughout the runtime. Nonetheless, this is one hell of a movie that unfortunately misses my 5-star mark.

Anyway, slight criticism aside, this movie is too dense for me to properly write about without having to border on novel-long thoughts. When Wikipedia says this is an art drama, it really is an art drama. Beyond the standard idea of a world where people used to a communal system coexist, they’re all looking for ways to respond to concepts of mysterious arrivals, religious motifs, communism, trust, selfishness, order and freedom, repetition... there’s a laundry list of things that this movie would like to examine and I feel that each person will have a different emphasis to go for after viewing this.

What I will say to close this review is that the best way to watch slow cinema movies is to really get weaned into the whole thing first. Watch as many 3-hour and 4-hour movies as you can. Build up your endurance, pretend its a miniseries you’re about to binge... and maybe you just might have an experience that is ultimately transcendental as you sink time into these kinds of movies. What I think Bela Tarr managed to achieve here is a film that asks you to remove your awareness of time... to get off your wristwatches and smartphones and look at a movie that doesn’t tell the time, but instead tells a story that spans and feels like two weeks. He literally has one sequence last for 15 minutes and its almost a long take!

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