Sean Burdett’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sátántangó: The Greatest Movie Ever Made
Since the inception of celluloid, movie-goers across the globe have been trying to figure out which movie really is “the greatest movie ever made”. Is it the raw and unfiltered depiction of humanity in Edward Yang’s Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian? Is it the brutally realistic vision of war in Elim Klimov’s Idi i smotri? Is it the profound exploration of artistic creation in Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse? The answer to all of these questions is a quick and easy “no”. The greatest movie of all time is, instead, Béla Tarr’s mammoth, 7-and-a-half-hour-long epic, Sátántangó; it’s simply the most hypnotic, thematically deep, and pure cinematic experience out there.
The length of this film is the first reason I consider this to be the greatest movie ever made--nothing else out there has a narrative even close to how dense and thorough Sátántangó’s is. In this movie, you are introduced to a cast of twelve people, and the run time allows for each character to be explored in detail that is unmatched. Through Petrina, the doctor, you see a disheartening depiction of the conflict between faith and the tangible world. Through Estike, a young girl, you see a heart-wrenching tale of poverty’s effect on childhood. Through Irimiás, a christ-like figure, you see the fine line between saviors and false prophets(Tarr). Each of these characters is put under a microscope, and examined until you feel like you’ve known them your whole life.
Another essential element of a “great movie” is its thematic weight. The ideas and themes at work in this film are, like the characters, put under a microscope and examined with immense attention to detail. The most powerful idea at work here is the power of unity. Trite as it may sound, this film shows us the salvation of unity perfectly by contrasting it with the absence of unity. The first half of this film centers around the villagers struggling to survive, and deceiving one another for their own gain. The whole duration of this part is utterly pessimistic and almost painful to watch. But after an event that shakes every villager to the core, this attitude changes and they look to band together within the community for their collective benefit. Though there are a million other themes at play, this one is extremely resonant and sticks with you for weeks after.
Fundamentally, the purpose of film as a medium is to remove the barrier between man and celluloid. There are many films that break down this barrier, but Sátántangó shatters it. The biggest reason for this is Tarr’s use of the long take. Over the past century, the average shot length of movies has been consistently decreasing, now sitting at around 5.5 seconds(McDowell). Sátántangó, sits at an average shot length of 152 seconds(McDowell). This by itself doesn’t mean anything, but what it creates is an effect I can only call “cinematic hypnotism”. With the length of shots so high, there is next to no cutting, so no room for distraction. When you watch this, you feel the mud caking your boots, you feel your clothes drenched in rainwater, you feel the crunching of gravel beneath your feet as you walk down the road. In this movie, there is no barrier between you and the screen; you become one with the movie and never leave its enveloping grasp.
Sátántangó is a perfect movie. There is no cinematic experience as hypnotizing and unforgettable to be found anywhere in the world. It's simply something you’ll never forget, and easily the greatest movie ever made.