It has been said that if the viewer is to watch this film in one sitting, the impact that the story has created will be so much more powerful. To watch the entire 7 hour film separated in parts will not be any more of an impact than sitting through Requiem for a Dream, and shutting it off at the halfway mark. I am one of the lucky few to have sat down and enjoyed Bela Tarr's masterpiece for a full seven and a half hours (of course with a few short breaks in between). If there is one thing that will throw people off from this movie, it is its running time. For most audiences, it will be an ordeal to sit through. If the mainstream audience was ever to watch such a beautiful film in one sitting, they might go mad thanks to the director's pace, narrative, and impeccable use of tracking shots and slow movements with the camera. Yet what separates Satantango from other masterworks that are just as long, is that the story actually works with the running time. Films like "Taiga" by Ulrike Ottinger (8 hours), "La Commune" by Peter Watkins (5 hours) or even mainstream classics like "Gone With The Wind" (3 hours) and Ben-Hur (3 hours); they would got caught up in the moment and never sustained a true narrative for portraying a story with such a long running time. But Satantango is one of the most impressive films I have ever seen, for that specific reason. Not only does it keep a close eye on its narrative structure, but even as it is cinematically and dialogue driven, it will keep the viewer entertained with its beautiful tracking shots, and stretched screenplay.
Its story is fairly simple, and it doesn't provide us with a huge array of plot twists or big climactic moments. In fact, the film is rather anti-climactic according to most audience's descriptions. To truly appreciate this film will be a difficult task for many viewers, especially the mainstream audience. The main flaw that most viewers will notice right away is that it could be considered fairly tedious, and almost pretentious. The film is mostly focused on picking up the little details by keeping the scene the same for a long amount of time. Sometimes the camera does not move for at least 10 minutes, and the scene does not change for at least 30. Other times, the camera will use its tracking shots and capture the image as it slowly moves several inches over the course of a few minutes. A lot of the film also takes place while the character is walking along a long road/trail. Showing the protagonist's whole journey as the camera stays still, and the character gets closer and closer towards the screen. Its true flaw for that reason, is that it makes up so much time while that is shown. Yet it would only be considered a flaw for those types of viewers. What I saw, was the directors vision being portrayed flawlessly. In around 7 hours, I was able to pick up so much of the plot and little details than I normally would in any other situation. The short stories were more powerful for the strangest reasons. As I was able to picture the environment better, the characters were also able to shine through. Most everyone in the film had a moment to shine, and the tracking shots really gathered their full potential. As most cast members were shown as close to the camera as possible, the dramatic effect could play out very well. The performances set the mood much more than the direction, and it played out which way the story was going. Sometimes the film was entirely dramatic, other times it was disturbing to watch, and every once in a while the black comedy showed through and it was funny as hell. A film with so many genres packed into one, it is hard to decide what it was that you had experienced.
It will be a long time before I even think about watching this again. As much as I enjoyed myself, sitting in my room for seven and a half hours curled under my blankets, and staring at a screen is not my ideal vision of film-viewing. But overall, I was thoroughly impressed. I don't think I have been so impressed with a film since I watched "Les Enfants Du Paradis" or even "Belle De Jour". The film making it top notch. The cinematography never picks a bad sight, and the stories are especially fascinating when they are scrambled together through a chronologically mixed plot that overlooks a few of the previous scenarios through a different point of view. You will never get through 7 hours of video this fast. This is an innovative, imaginative, cinematically beautiful, and overall powerful piece of cinema. How can one do justice to such an epic. As a black comedy that can only be hailed as one of a kind, or as an imagery driven piece of powerful fiction. There's no way to tell, but there will never be any need to. What we are given is a typical film that is able to make use of the art it is qualified as with simple techniques, and moralizing short stories. But is it a good film? Of course... it may be one of the most exhilarating, and cinematically beautiful films I have ever seen. The art-house genre would be proud of such an experimental masterpiece. But for the viewers that are wishing for a more, fast paced and dramatic turn of events, this subtle piece will not be one for you. Fans of the art-house will approve rapidly. But the mainstream won't appreciate what it's trying to achieve.