Satantango ★★★★★

Forty for the Quarantine 29/40 — #1 - That long-a$$ watch that you put off forever.

Finally, I earned my bragging rights: I have watched Satantango in one sitting.

However, this watch felt slightly bitter. This past Saturday, I was supposed, together with my friend Stephen (here's his profile, he posts sporadic but excellent reviews), to watch the 4k restoration of the film on one of the larger screens in Central London. We had two back row seats with plenty of legroom, and I felt fortunate that my first experience of this monumental film was going to be in such pristine conditions. Obviously, the cinema closed down and the screening got cancelled due to the outbreak, so I made myself a coffee, opened up my unsullied DVD copy, and hardly took my eyes off of the screen for 7 hours. After a while, my disappointment disappeared in favour of my adoration for the film.

To the avid arthouse film consumer, the first watch of Satantango is hyped up as an experience akin to losing one's virginity. It might sound strange, but this was far from the hardest time I've had sitting through a film. This is both a testament to the film's excellence and to the fact that I probably lost my arthouse cinema virginity long ago – after this, you can call me a whore if you like. Don't get me wrong, sometime after the fifth hour I started feeling tired and drained. However, by that point, I was committed to the experience. Plus, I only had a 5-minute leeway if I wanted to finish the film before an evening commitment, and I decided that watching the last two hours without pause was better than watching them after 10 pm.

Certainly, the main reasons behind Satantango's length are the film's long stretches where, narratively, nothing happens. And I am sure that many would decry those moments as ways to artificially lengthen the film. However, I perceived this as a film with a variety of characters and events, where every event is given the time to breathe and every character is given the time to exist. Thus, the runtime didn't feel as daunting as it ought to have. To a slow cinema lover, time flies when nothing happens. And in this film, you start treasuring the moments of silence, as it is set in a world where words are used to slander, deceive and manipulate. You start treasuring the uneventful moments, as actions are often cruel, violent and malicious. But mostly, Satantango is a film about vacuousness and aimlessness, which chooses to focus on vacuous and aimless moments. However, the film itself is not vacuous or aimless: it is one of the most carefully constructed, masterfully directed and thematically rich films that you will ever see. I now find myself at a loss for words, not because there is nothing to say, but because there is too much to cover.

Cat people trigger warning: there is an extended sequence, which involves a child physically abusing a cat, forcefully feeding it poison and carrying its dead body around. Due to the fact that they used a real cat, I had to make sure that there was no animal abused involved, so I looked up the production context. Fortunately, I found out that they pushed the cat around but never caused it pain, and they sedated it under a vet's supervision to create the effect of it being dead. The sequence is exploitative, perhaps, but not as harmful as it might look.

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