Sátántangó (Satan's Tango) Reviews
13 4 2013
DVD all the way from Budapest!
But this film understands the commitment we make to it. To call it an epic, is, I feel, inaccurate. The Birth of a Nation is an epic. Barry Lyndon is an epic. Those films take place over years and chronicle countless meaningful events in the lives of their main character(s). Satantango takes place, for the most part, over two days in the lives of these farmers. And because it's seven hours long and the lives of these people are about as interesting as our own (well, seriously) the attention to detail is immaculate. There are approximately eight characters, so we get a chance to know them and their lifestyle perfectly over the course of the movie.
And the reason for this is the same reason it's not an epic; we see meaningful events in their lives, but we also see meaningless events. Right near the start of the film we watch a woman go to the bathroom in a pan, in stark contrast to the beautiful shot of cattle that occupied the first eight minutes of the movie.
The only explanation that can be made is that Tarr wants us to actually be a part of the lives of these people, through their distresses and happiness and above all, their tedium. The reason approximately three hours of the film is dedicated to utter nothingness is that can you, seriously, say that you spend more than half your life actively doing something? Really?
It's a punishing work, to be sure. These are miserable, downtrodden people, and we have shared close quarters with them for seven hours. But their misfortunes are truly tangible, because their misfortunes belong to people who use the bathroom and drink and dance and walk and dream and yell and sigh and mutter and grumble and think and LIVE. Life is Satan's Tango, six steps forward, six steps back, and all we can do is occasionally take the time to think about it. I think that, for true contemplation of life and meaning, seven hours isn't too much to ask.
P.S. I don't see any similarities with Bela Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky as I have read.
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.
However, it is recommended almost exclusively to either people who are catatonic, people who are studying\interested in Black Holes and perhaps to the few who are willing to dive into existential abysses.
There is a good amount of talent involved with Satantango. At such lengths a film obviously needs a cast to perform impeccably by means of natural, professional and improvised performances, cinematography that outdoes most of the attempts from films of the new millennium, and its sound design to be spellbinding and otherworldly or at least emotive in a sense so that viewers can stay connected if not through pace.
Satantango does have its cast, photography and other share of things to boot but its mixture of conventional and unconventional filming causes fluctuations between godlike moments and granted ones. The film judged as a whole didn't create much greatness though I believe it deserves a higher rating (A perfect one) because of multiple scenes that warrant it. Individually rating scene by scene and coming up with an average would more or less be the manner in which I rated it. Because of any possible deterrents from full enjoyment and appreciation, I've decided to rewatch it perhaps in ten years seeing as how I've only been interested in art house for two.
Multiple shots, as previously mentioned, are expertly crafted and composed. I'll say my favorite is the opening where cows spontaneously herd from a warehouse to the field, all of this set to an entrancing, lulling sound of chiming, humming bells. This scene like various, various scenes in the rest of the film captures naturalistic instances: the cows wander a moment in mud and their footsteps echo loudly; some cows moo and its echo sounds beautiful; others attempt to mate. Scenes are not always as peaceful and metaphorical but they are impressively long and shot in one take. (This and the non-linear structure as well as the re-creation of scenes from different angles were a major influence on Gus Van Sant.)
It is unconventional in the sense that characters are truly fully developed, moments taking from ten to twenty minutes focusing on one individual almost like a novel. This character development is paired with the storyline, a conventional act that I did not wholly find interest in. It is not the story's fault; I have my personal taste. Most scenes where the photography dulled and characters spoke back and forth were anchored in an unnecessary realism with myself fully aware that there was a camera filming said characters. But as it is I'll still declare it a mammoth achievement as I felt it more of a three-hour movie. It would be interesting to see this style and manner of film making under surrealism.
Lastly, I have to address the child actor (The one on the cover) who was shockingly talented for her age. She elicits a psychotic unease with her naturalistic actions (Real time feline abuse) and facial expressions.