Wednesday, October 9, 2013

880. Satantango (1994)

Running Time: 432 minutes
Directed By: Bela Tarr
Written By: Bela Tarr, from novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai
Main Cast: Mihaly Vig, Putyi Horvath, Laszlo Lugossy, Eva Almassy Albert, Janos Derzsi


Let me just start this post off with one word: WOW! No, that's not a good "WOW" either. That's the type of "WOW" you'd use after a long night, after your car broke down, you slipped in mud, spilled wine on your jacket, broke your arm and got chased down by a pack of wild dogs. Just WOW...

I don't even know how to get going here, so I'll just try to dive right into it and hope for the best. As far as the plot synopsis for "Satantango" goes, I don't think I can really give you one, because a lot of the time I didn't know what the hell was going on. The film (yes, it's a film and should, in no way, be referred to as a movie) starts off with a group of people, farm owners, dividing up cash they got, presumably from selling their land. Then they find out that someone (Irimias) they thought was dead, actually isn't and that he's coming back. They get all scared and decide that it would be best to leave town, but they never do...I don't think. Again, there were times when I was really lost. Umm let's see here - after that there was a good two hours where nothing of note seemed to be happening. A drunken doctor stumbling around in the night, trying to buy a bottle of plum brandy and a child torturing a cat, each segment at least one hour in length. Then Irimias talks to the people from the beginning, as well as a few others (I think) and basically gives this great speech which compels them to hand over all their money to him, as he convinces them that there are greener pastures, if only there were more funding. I'll stop this horrid synopsis there and get on with the opinion portion of the post.

This is my 739th movie watched and never have I had a more difficult time with a film - not even close. Not with "Shoah", which had a running time of two hours longer than this, but went a lot smoother and was a lot more interesting (and didn't take me as long). Not with "Henry V", which I despised, nor "Ivan the Terrible", "1900", "Chimes at Midnight" or "The Birth of a Nation". This was the one that actually made me, for just a split second (literally) contemplate throwing in the towel on this whole project. I started this movie on Wednesday night, October 2nd and every night since then, when I had to think about watching a little bit more, I hated life. There were nights when I just couldn't bring myself to watch anymore and I had to take the night off and on night that I did work on it, I couldn't stand it for more than an hour at a time. The dialogue, even when translated to English, was like speech from another world and a lot of times, they'd talk, I'd read and it'd be like a 12-year-old trying to decipher Shakespeare. I don't want to bare my lack of intellect, but I was lost a lot of the time and pretty much had no idea what was going on. The only times when the film actually held my attention long enough to matter, was during the scene where the cat was being tortured and even that was like watching a car crash - horrible, but unable to look away. I mean, that shit was depressing and I was later relieved to hear that a vet a was on set the whole time.

Was the film beautiful? YES! My God, it was one of the best looking films I'd ever seen. Were all the long takes brilliant? Sure, but in my opinion unnecessary. This sometimes came off like a "How To" video on the art of shooting a long take. It seemed as though Tarr just kept throwing them in for the sake of doing so, with no real rhyme or reason to why they were present. Was the length necessary? Absolutely not! Like the long takes, I got the feeling that the length was just in place for the sake of making a long picture. This was mind numbing for me and it really didn't have to be. However, of course I'm going to say that, because I didn't like it. I'm sure there are fans of this film out there saying that it could've gone nine or even ten hours and they'd have been happy. Oy vey, can you imagine? UGH!

This film was definitely an experience for me. There were times, like two nights ago, when I was working on the sixth hour, that I felt guilty for not liking it. It's just such a gorgeous film that it screams masterpiece even when the word "masterpiece" seems out of sight. For a minute, the other night, I kind of started to get reinvested in the film, when I realized that Irimias was basically con jobbing these people and I started to feel like maybe I just didn't pay enough attention or made to much of a big deal out of a few boring scenes, that I wound up making the whole film boring for myself. Then other times, I just wanted it to end so I could come here, give it a '1' and be done with it forever. At this point, I can tell you that a part of me doesn't ever want to see it again, as long as I live and another part wants to someday take another crack at it. Part of me wants to call it the most boring movie ever made, while the other half just wants to stress how beautiful and masterpiece-esque it is. I'm torn and I can tell you that this movie did a number on me. As to what kind of number, I don't know. Unsure of my own feelings toward this picture. I'd compare it to a really beautiful woman who's a massive bitch. You don't really want anything to do with her, but you love to look at her. However, maybe I'm just sugar coating it, because while I was watching it, I hated it. Maybe I'm just trying really hard to be a part of the snooty film club and that's definitely something I don't want to do.

RATING: 4/10  Still trying to sort out my feelings toward the film. Suffice it to say that it's boring as hell, but your eyes will be forever grateful. Comes off like a masterpiece, but the length and too many long takes make it a VERY rough watch. In other news, I'm off until Saturday so I'm really going to try and bang out a few more reviews during my off days. It's a shame that it's the 9th and this is my first movie watched for the month.


October 9, 2013  11:40am


  1. Phew....
    No-one can deny this one is HARD WORK, so congratulations on getting through it, and not skipping bits.
    Bella Tarr I count as one of my discoveries of this journey through 1001 films. I have found the long slow takes fascinating eeary and beautiful.
    I very much liked 'Werkmaster Harmonies'.. and another one I've forgotten the name of...'Damnation' - that's it....
    There was a very great deal in this I liked. Fantastic images, (those walking scenes.. a huge amount of atmosphere and Zeitgeist... but even after saying that. did it have to be so long? What was achieved, other than alienating so many people?
    I'm not sure, but somehow it felt.. ok.. it suited to mood?
    What was it about? I'm not sure about that either.. but something to do with the collapse of corrupt and failed Communism and the failure to replace it with something better?
    A film that continues to baffle but intrigue me...

    1. Beautiful and eerie long takes, but again I say, for what purpose? Oh well....

      I wouldn't be totally opposed to seeing more from Tarr but to say he's a discovery, I just can't go that far. I'm sure I won't soon forget "Satantango", I loved the long takes, the long walks, the tracking shots, but it just didn't seem to have any purpose or any story...not one that I could decipher anyway. That part may be my own fault....

    2. First point.. Yes, of course.... double 'e'e at the start.. THAT'S how to spell eerie... I knew it looked wrong, and I kept trying all sorts of ways.. and the spell check had no idea what I was on about. Silly me, quite simple really...
      Well, the best explanation about length I can come up with is it it is all to do with atmosphere.. you cannot show bleak despair in short choppy takes. Not a totally convincing argument.. most (for example) Ingmar Bergman's rarely exceed 90 mins, and no-one can deny he gets his bleak despair in in that time.
      But, I would never have thought of tackling this without being made to by the list.. but i am now thankful I did...
      Off the top of my head, I've forgotten,.. is 'Werkmeister harmonies' in the book? Do you have a slowly rotting whale to look forward to?

    3. No more Tarr in THE BOOK (my edition anyway). However, I know for a fact "Werkmeister Harmonies" and "The Turin Horse" are on my next list. I'll be prepared for them....

  2. This is a really terrific review. You do a great job of capturing what it's like to watch this beautifully boring film and all the emotions you go through in the process. I had to break it up into 4 viewing sessions over 2 days that I interspersed with other movies. It really is work, and unlike any other movie experience that I've had. And I don't think your hate/love reaction means you're just trying to like it to prove your film buff credentials or anything like that. It's just really hard to understand and explain how you can hate a movie as you're watching it and still deeply admire it at the same time.
    As I look back on it with a year of distance, what I remember most is the utterly depressing mood. I think the lethargic pacing is effective in pulling you into the mood in a visceral way so that you're almost feeling it with the characters. That's not pleasant and makes the movie very hard to watch, but ultimately a good experience, even though I was constantly watching the clock and hoping it'd be over soon.

    1. William, thanks so much for stopping by. I always appreciate comment and anyone who takes the time to read something I wrote or listen to an opinion I had.

      Yeah, it is a rough one isn't it? I read somewhere that Tarr expects viewers of this film to watch it in one sitting! YEAH RIGHT! I can't imagine doing so...

      About a month removed from the experience and I'm just glad it's over, although all those visceral images iare still indelibly etched into my skull and lasting impressions are always a good thing, right?

      Thanks again!

    2. Well, thanks for writing the blog. I thought about doing something similar when I started the Book, but knew I didn't have the time or energy needed to keep it going. I've actually been lurking for almost 2 years - reading your new posts for movies I'd already seen and coming back to read your old posts when I got around to seeing the film. For some reason last night I decided it was time to start adding my 2 cents.

    3. With your permission Andrew, may i also to hi to WB, and also thank him for a good, useful and interesting contribution to the discussion.
      Most mornings I look to see if anyone else has 'joined' in, so I also hope you will be back and join 'our' discussion..

    4. William - Well I'm glad you decided to start adding your two cents. I appreciate it immensely. and....

      Ray, of course you have my permission to greet William. The more the merrier and the more discussion we can generate the better.

    5. Hi there, Ray. I've enjoyed reading your comments along the way and look forward to discussing more films with you down the road.


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