"Sátántangó" is a work in patience for the viewer. No matter what anyone tells you (most of them will tell you that the movie is Bela Tarr's best film and one of the most original movies of the 90s) it's impossible to hop, skip, or jump around the seven-hour running time or the static shots that eat up so much time. This is a movie whose entire first ten minutes is devoted to cows and its last five are completely black.
Although, to be honest, I was with this film until about five hours into it when things started to get confused.
The movie opens to a man waking up because he hears bells in the far off country. He stands up and scratches his head—the woman he was sleeping with washes herself and then they can start their day. But this is no ordinary day, this day has already started off with crime.
"Sátántangó" focuses on a little town and the people that inhabit it. It's a movie that's never quite explained and seems to imply the existence of the supernatural; but after seven hours that little tidbit is forgotten with all the slogging through that we have to do.
Shot in exquisite black and white with stunningly impressive and well-choreographed long static and tracking shots, "Sátántangó" could work on its own as just a visual treat and a feat rather than a masterpiece, which is how I see it.
Two men who were either missing or presumed dead show back up in the town and that sends everyone into a tailspin. There is thievery, drunkenness, animal cruelty, sexual harassment, and dancing...so you'd think that we'd be constantly entertained.
With most movies, the job of the viewer is to keep track of things, to remember instances or to make connections. With "Sátántangó" there is nothing the viewer is supposed to do but watch and become frustrated. When Tarr spends almost a complete hour watching a young girl torture a cat and then meet an untimely end...what good does that do us?
If Tarr, like Haneke did with "The White Ribbon" is trying to project the town's mentality, he's going about it in a very long and unnecessary way.
Completing the steps of a dance, the movie is told in chapter-like fashion. A narrator gives us insight into characters' minds and dreams; and while it looks and sounds nice, I find it very hollow.
The point of the movie is lost to me and frankly I don't care that it is. Billed as a "black comedy" I find "Sátántangó" a much more convincing drama than anything else. There are a few moments that ring true of humor, but they are lost in the massive screen time and the dryness that is almost suffocating.
You have to admire the work that went into "Sátántangó", because there was obviously a lot of passion directed into the film. The actors are all sensational and you forget that there is a camera present.
Sound plays a large part in the movie. We hear every footstep and breath that the characters take. We hear the liquor being poured or the gentlest of whispers from beneath closed lips.
There is a horribly twisted plot in terms of the characters: how they interact, who cheated who, who is cheating on who, etc; but the actual meat of the movie is insubstantial when you think of how long is take Bela Tarr to get anywhere.
I'm not saying that the movie isn't audacious, because it certainly is...but it's taxing and vexing. Maybe Tarr wants you to get frustrated at the movie and its apathetic way of communication—if so, well done.
If not, the movie isn't sentimental enough to make me engage with its characters, it isn't clear enough to make me focus on the plot, and it isn't short enough for me to be able to watch it without my butt falling asleep.
On this one, count me as one of the non-believers. "Sátántangó" should be seen as a cerebral achievement rather than entertainment.
Posted by Micah Jones