Satantango ★★★★★

Film reviews in 22 sentences (or less)
Today: Satantango

„It's a pitch black world view - depressing, gripping - dramatizing the break-up of the Soviet state, but it could easily have been the survival after an atomic catastrophe, the third world war or another apocalyptic event, the mood would be the same.“
(The Two Cineasts)

Hi everybody, as always, Béla Tarr certainly doesn't make it easy for us to follow his films and, in this case, even persevere. This film is truly a pound, not only in its expressiveness, but also in its sheer length, over a period of more than 7 1/2 hours we take part in a process that was not that long ago, but this process is delivered to us in Images that could just as easily come from the Middle Ages or from a post-apocalyptic future. With simple black-and-white images, wonderful settings and urban, almost absurdly abstract sets, Béla Tarr manages to create a naturalism that is in no way inferior to its intellectual predecessor Andrej Tarkovsky or today's representative Aleksandr Sokurov. Water, wind, dirt are all part of the story of Bela Tarr’s "Satantango" (that has a high position in our list Eastern European Films Ranked , meticulously shows us the disintegration of the rural society of a former world power. What happens to the people in the country, what do you have to struggle with after the fall of the Soviet Union?

In this film, too, Béla Tarr gives us his very special answer, not told or presented by a hero, no, through a brilliant casting of people who actually look as if they had spent the last few years there, and those that day quite by chance were visited. These people transport their everyday life through stupid and repetitive activities. Boredom, alcohol consumption, deception, betrayal and greed are all that make up the people in this village and thus they are a wonderful parable for all of humanity. Forgotten and left alone, rotting and decaying, they vegetate to themselves. Each of the residents is eager to get the last big salary of the recently closed factory and to start a fresh life with this money, but what to do if you don't know what you want.

Béla Tarr not only proves an outstanding directing performance by providing us with images that burn into our memory, no, he is also a wonderful storyteller, sure you have to like his films, that is out of the question, but once you get down to it, you get something that you certainly don't get again too often in the film world. There's a certain depth in each and every scene because the camera keeps track of what is happening with long takes and slow tracking shots that add the realistic and authentic feeling for time and for example the path between two points (things other movies just skip). We really get the time to remember what it's like to walk in mud and rain, everybody who's not familiar with Tarr's work should definitely not expect contemporary and typical standards when it comes to the pace, "Satantango" has only about 150 shots, the most lasting somewhere around 10 minutes, but it's exactly this celebration of every angle, every muddy puddle and every neglected building that gives the film its unique rhythm and style.

What many experience as boring, pure waste of time is exactly what makes this film so incredibly special, through the minute-long observation of people who do nothing but be, standing in a corner of a room, sitting lost in thought at the window, sleep or die. We take part in a life that seems so strange to us and yet is so close, a philosophical, a naturalistic masterpiece, which at the very most was achieved by Andrei Tarkovsky. With this work, Béla Tarr has catapulted himself into the Olympus, not only of European, no, of world cinema, it is not for nothing that this 7 1/2 hours magnum opus can be found on almost every list of the best films of all time, in our opinion absolutely justified.

„Keeping order appears to be the business of the authorities, but in fact it's the business of all.“
(Péter Dobai as Százados)

The titled "tango" plays an interesting part when we take a closer look at the phenomenally implemented secret star of the film: the structure that has to share one winner's podium with the cinematography and yet unfolds in the background. The 12 "chapters" (just as in a Tango) are similar to Kurosawa's "Rashomon" resolves around one event told in differently ways by the characters so that we witness segments that had already happened literally from another perspective. The tango occurs also in the way the plot, or better, the lives of the protagonists develop: a repeating dance, one step forward, two steps backward. Their whole world seems to tread water, or even develop back, just like the film itself doesn't move in the typical way from beginning to end but reruns the scenes. Hence "Satantango" is epic in every sense of the word, but despite the length of 432 minutes not an epic in the classical sense, at least not the story, the camera work is the camera work of an epic causing trance-like reaction. So, the story and structure may have the soul of a tango - static and repeating - and represents perfectly what the characters are going through, the cinematography however is comparable to a ballet with graceful tracks and weaves. The logistical efforts, the choreography is just mind blowing as the long takes involve most of the time close to 10 people and nevertheless feels as natural as it can.

One quick sentence to the cat scene: that was definitely too much for both of us, understandable for the following developments yes, but clearly a huge trigger warning for every animal lover out there.

We have been big fans of Béla Tarr since The Turin Horse , we immediately fell in love with his long lasting visual power and "Satantango's" scenery is maybe even more frightening, ugly, gloomy, withered, apocalyptic yet stunningly beautiful mesmerizing and hypnotic.

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