Satantango

Satantango ★★★★★

The Criterion Challenge 2021

Am I worthy now? I have finally conquered the mighty Sátántangó, so I ask... am I worthy now?

For a film that is this critically acclaimed and this cinematically beloved, I find it only sensible to be somewhat intimidated and hesitant to actually watch it, despite having supremely high anticipations. Not to mention its notorious plus-seven-hour runtime, a fact so jaw-dropping that it continuously overshadows the endless acclaim. A seven-hour-long black-and-white Hungarian arthouse film is not something that will grow on you the more you watch it; if you are bored stiff within the first hour or two, it is not likely to get any better. And because of that, the film is a risky watch, but thankfully, it paid off.

Sátántangó is an allegorically-stuffed and thematically-dense story about a fallen post-Communist village. Noted for its unconventional, spiderweb-like, tango-inspired narrative structure, the film is told through varying points-of-view, repeatedly depicting the same scenarios, posing questions on existentialism, nihilism, authority, and sociopolitical dynamics – questions which encompass the lives of people who cannot move forward. Until they do.

An all-round brilliant film, from Tarr's trademark direction to the outstanding performances to the ingenious screenplay to the accordion-centric score. The most noteworthy filmic component, however, has to be the cinematography. Each scene perfectly constructed and each frame perfectly shot, Sátántangó is among the most visually impressive films I have ever seen. An amalgamation of awe-inspiring long takes, transcendental fly-on-the-wall composition, sweeping fluidity, and intimate close-ups, the film creates a world of both striking realism and poetic expressionism. There are more than enough unforgettable stills; that mudded road will be eternally etched into my brain. And at the same time, something else will also be eternally etched into my brain, but for starkly different reasons. I am, of course, talking about the infamous cat scene. Not a fun 15 minutes in the slightest, and a new top 10 hard-to-watch moment for me.

A long, slow-burning seven hours, no doubt, but it was worth absolutely every minute of it. This was also the final category for my Criterion Challenge, whoop whoop! I finished this one pretty early, so I might do another, we will see.

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