Edgar Cochran ✝️’s review published on Letterboxd:
Don't read it as a review, but as a magazine article. This is the longest thing I have ever written about one single film, but it is also the only review that made me cry out of sentiment while constructing it.
Before starting to construct a modest, fully developed essay about Béla Tarr's Sátántangó, let's make a nostalgic resume about some of the most wonderful experiences cinema has offered throughout its history. German Expressionism represented the pinnacle of Berlin's technical vision and resulted in the most visually captivating and thought-provoking classic masterpiece up to a hair-rising degree. After the Second World War, the emotional, physical and financial devastation and crisis the world was facing had a cinematic reaction in Europe and, latterly, in Mexico. The Italian neorealism is born as a form of expression that was meant to be so strong, so modest and so pitiful in nature that its resulting effect created a cathartic effect. It was a movement that, for some audiences, was released at the most inappropriate, hurtful time, but it had an everlasting effect nonetheless. New branches of filmmaking, including mere experimentation, are inevitably born and establish a trademark that would either result in a landmark way of making films or become successful failures, especially concerning films that would miserably fail because of predominant pretentiousness, dullness or missed marks. Finally, cinema became in an almost completely referential art, making homages to the beautiful stillness of the Soviet Union thanks to Andrei Tarkovsky, the black-and-white art that the film-noir genre would offer principally through the United States and the United Kingdom, and the melodramatic and clichéd touch that was completely accepted by audiences that belonged to the Golden Age of cinema, a characteristic that helped a lot to the success of the most famous American classics. Combine all of those elements in a single feature film and add approximately seven-and-a-half spoonfuls of French surrealism, mix the cinematic bowl, let it rest for four years and disseminate it through the audiences around the world before the new millennium begins. 1994 was the year that cinema itself witnessed the finest forms of cinematographic and artistic expressions combined in a single film that slowly passes as life itself. What are the main characteristics of the film? It is from Hungary, it was directed by Béla Tarr, it contains one of the longest average shot lengths in any motion picture (approximately 2.43 minutes), it has the longest shot ever filmed, which lasts around 620 seconds (excluding the films that are composed by one single take such as Timecode  Russkiy Kovcheg , PVC-1  and Nokta ), it is one of the longest films ever made without being separated into episodes, reaching the length of 450 glorious minutes, and it is the best film ever made, a movie consisting of nearly 185 shots throughout its length. There is no director, cinema fan or critic that can wholeheartedly affirm that such masterful mammoth was released at the right time. No one can fully assure that Sátántangó rescued cinema. Bad films are still being made and Sátántangó did not precisely become an extraordinary landmark event for the arts. Does the film have the ultimate ability to achieve such massive task on Earth? Yes, it does. However, on my humble and literally insignificant opinion, not all human eyes are ready yet to digest 27,000 seconds of symbolisms and dozens of life lessons in a single sitting. The purposes and motivations within Béla Tarr's mind are the least clear things that remain. However, he is entitled to avoid giving away any explanation whatsoever. The remaining thing is this magnum opus that is as big, perplexing, captivating, gorgeous, spellbinding, orgasmic, exciting, haunting, hypnotizing, masterful, extraordinary, unparalleled, visionary, skeptic, delicate, gigantic, grandiose, wonderful, tear-inducing, breathtaking and marvelous as life itself.
Seemingly, the film takes place in a remote village of 1980's Hungary. All of the residents are eagerly expecting to receive a considerable cash payment and to embark on a personal, independent life journey with such material support as their life-jumping mattress. Greed is naturally an obvious characteristic of man's ego, so some of them even plan to receive larger amounts of money earlier. An odyssey of self-reflection as enormous as the size of the Universe is about to begin when gossipy concerning Irimiás' return to town, a man everybody thought dead, is propagated. His brilliant manipulation and calm voice and attitude are the main personality characteristics that alarm all of the residents since the suspicion of him getting away with all the money through a giant scheme becomes an idea that start to haunt both their heads and their consciousness. The main purpose of Irimiás may even go beyond controlling the community with a supposedly convenient, financial plan. The only award this miscomprehended giant won is a Caligari Film Award at the Berlin International Film Festival. Sometime in the future, perhaps some decades from now, it will finally receive the recognition it deserves. Genius directors are never properly recognized until its effect is proved to have remained through the decades. Nowadays, we have one genius on our hands going severely unnoticed. His name is Béla Tarr, and he is a poet.
Sátántangó provides the ultimate, definitive cinema experience. There is almost no other experience that can surpass the epic magnitude and colossal amazement Sátántangó does without being pretentious, slow, and tedious and without Béla Tarr fancying himself. He may not even fully recognize the brilliance and striking poetry that govern his mind just like Jodorowsky had no idea if his films were particularly good or not. He is an expressionist and arguably the most faithful portrayal of the time relativity of life and of the human condition. Tarr congregates the thoughts and the emotions that some people, those people who are capable of processing and creating thoughts during every single second of consciousness regardless of the specific action they are performing at the moment, own while personally thinking that nobody can see the world nor understand their mentality. That mental attitude is completely truthful. Federico Fellini understood it. He urged the world to see life like he did. Consequently, considering the aforementioned aspects, what is the most accessible and complete art that could fully express their vision? The language of cinema is the means they resorted to, including other outstanding, timeless directors, and tried to translate it through images. Tarr used images, Fellini combined images with dialogue, Tarkovsky mixed stillness with poetry and philosophy, Buñuel mostly offered surrealism for symbolisms to be interpreted and contrasted with real life. Moreover, Tarr achieved to make the audience look at life itself without even reportedly confirming such aim.
These thoughts, ways of thinking and spiritual, even soulless sensations are the ones that compose the premise of Sátántangó. It is, obviously, a very possible consequence to be amazingly hypnotized by its visual style rather than to be convinced to pay attention to the plot. The director, voluntarily or not, homages the styles that cinema had given birth to for a hundred years, considering it was filmed in a period of four years (1990-1994). Each hour of the film coverts us to one more resident, a resident that is offered the opportunity to live the rural lives held by the habitants and to witness it from different points of view. That nostalgic and typically felt sensation of wanting to be in several places at the same time is one of the divine opportunities that Béla Tarr has the mercy of offering to the viewer. It is not precisely treated as stories that intertwine, but that there is a superior force that acts with the sole, predestined intention to gather either self-centered or confused souls and make them live the exact same situation. The psychological background suddenly disappears with its importance dimming slowly. It is the aftermath that matters. It is how, each one of the characters, intentionally trying to mirror the persons that form the base of the cinematic audience, to feel empathetic, thus causing a devastating and even frightening cathartic feeling. Alcoholism, solitude, atheism, greed and arrogance bring devastating results to the perspective characters that suit one of these human defects. It is inevitable: life is life.
The attention to detail is not exaggerated. The cinematography by Gábor Medvigy may be one of the most spellbinding in the entire history of cinema!!! The technique of following a character for several big lengths is a technique that was directly influenced by Greek filmmaker Theodoros Angelopoulos and Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. However, Tarkovsky emphasized the stillness of a well-balanced take, and Angelopoulos was more mobile. Either partially (Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón, Kenneth Brannagh and dozens others) or totally (Gus Van Sant), Sátántangó is an influential piece of filmmaking from wherever it may be seen. It diminishes the physical size of the human race and ennobles the spiritual qualities that distinguish it from above any other animal species. Have you ever wondered or even wanted to know what if feels like to stand still in the middle of the rain and looking towards the sky without the concern of being sick? Have you ever wished to know what it feels like to be the last one to leave a party that ends until the latest hours of the night? Have you ever been awed by the skill and delicacy implied in the work of a spider? The spider seems to be floating in the air, suspended by an invisible force. Yet, it is a thread so thing that it sometimes can't be seen, but it is strong enough to support its weight. Have you ever loved the visible and graphical chain reactions caused by a series of events? Have you ever stared at an amazing spectacle of nature, such as a waterfall, a flower waking up in the morning, a snake eating a rat, a seagull hunting a fish, or a mystical display of fog landing on the earth? Have you ever experienced a déjà-vu, or being internally struck by an epiphany of dramatic proportions? Those tiny little details of life, seen through the right, trained, experienced, artistic and harmonious eyes are depicted in the exact same way. A master's lens is converted into a replica of reality despite the black-and-white use, a fact that strictly convinces the viewer that the film is a colossal homage to classic films. However, these small, tiny details that praise the five senses God gave to us in his infinite wisdom are not the only ones that are glorified. Vast landscapes, the beauty of walking a straight road surrounded by fields in a balanced way with a complete view of the sky, the art that a symmetrical construction seen from the right angles involves, among other aspects that form part of the roads we daily drive through and walk on are present. The second chapter of the film titled "Raising from the Dead" has one of the most spellbinding, harmonious and beautifully realistic, suburban shots ever put to the big screen. Even so, several sequences throughout seven-and-a-half-hours are easily included into a list of the most staggering and creative, not to mention poignant sequences in the history of the motion picture.
The human condition and empowerment ultimately destroy the characters. The lack of control and independence over other people or beings is symbolized in a sequence where a charming little girl tortures a cat in physical and psychological forms. The final destiny the cat faces is the same one the girl decides to face. However, she takes the necessary bravery from witnessing the act and suffering that it would probably involved through making an "inferior being" to suffer the exact same fate before she does. The psychological reasons behind her motivations may me originated from destroyed illusions, lack of attention and constant deceptions. It may be a clear outcome because of how degraded the town already is. Usually, kids are symbolisms of the original innocence the human race originally possesses before being perverted by the surrounding society, perhaps the most important element that drove to the conclusion of another future Béla Tarr film, Werckmeister Harmóniák (2000). Every single character has an epiphany, including Irimiás, and the sequence showing the aforementioned girl is the key hour of the film that suggests the doom of the village. The final sequence of the Doctor having a religious epiphany is the most memorable, surreal and discussed scene of the entire film for the majority of the audience that witnessed the spectacle of Sátántangó. The title of the film is clearly illustrated in a long, extraordinarily built and shot sequence where the villagers are desperately expecting for the unexpected arrival of Irimiás while everybody dance in a considerably drunk state. They are in the "nipples of Satan". To what extent can a remote Hungarian village become a modern Sodom? They require the aid of God, the One and Only. The wisdom and physical resemblance of Irimiás with Jesus Christ is an element that we may be able to throw into the analysis of the film. Even the chronological order of the events is relative. Subjectivity of all arts is present in the film, establishing itself as another art form.
Sátántangó surpasses itself. Is that possible? Can a film surpass itself? That is a direct contradiction! This last statement I made may leave you as perplex as the overall experience of the film. Béla Tarr has reached a pinnacle within the most recent and financially successful art. It can reach such indescribable levels of grandiosity and epic measures that the human eye will even feel destroyed. It is one of those films that are mentioned when coming to a general, impossible discussion of what the best movie ever made may be. This is the best film ever made. You can finally stop the search now; the day has come. In fact, it came two decades ago, but the world wasn't ready to understand it and witness it. It surpasses all expectations, it surpasses the best masterpieces of the greatest directors that could ever have grabbed a camera, and it beats the saintliness of films by Dreyer, Bresson and Tarkovsky, the poetry by Antonioni and Resnais, the human testaments of Bergman, Fellini and Rossellini, the artistic beauty of Kobayashi and Mizoguchi, the literary talent of Truffaut, Godard and Kurosawa. Tarr is a god of cinema and Irimiás is his Jesus who everybody thought was dead, but has come back for our redemption and even having the mercy for letting us have a new beginning. If we deny Him, the eerie music plays its role, ending in the same way the ending scene closes: with darkness... eternal darkness... We should stop creating and imagining the sound of bells, because God is the owner of all. Perdition and an eternal wait for something that will never come are not the best way. They will never become the answers to the prayers we never did.