July 18, 2008



Reviewer: Maria Komodore
Rating (out of 5): *****

Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr has always been notorious for his long, slow, and exceedingly bleak cinematic explorations of life in the former Soviet bloc. But the mere two hours and twenty five minutes that one of his most celebrated films, Werckmeister Harmonies (made six years earlier, in 2000), takes for its poetically bizarre visual symbolisms to unfold, are nothing compared to Sátántángo.

With a total running time of seven hours and fifteen minutes, Sátántángo ceremoniously deserves to be called "epic." Nonetheless, as skeptical as the film's duration may make a viewer, Tarr's rendering of the last days of a collective farm during the end of communist-era Hungary is so engaging and so breathtakingly beautiful that one barely notices the hours go by.

Based on a novel by fellow Hungarian László Krasznahorkai (a writer with whom Tarr has collaborated in numerous occasions) Sátántángo is divided into twelve parts that adopt the same six-steps-forward, six-steps-backwards tempo progression of a typical Tango rhythm. Meant to portray the different characters (as well as their individual perspectives) that occupy the aforementioned farm, long panning shots leap back and forth in time capturing the poverty stricken farmers' desperate machinations and back stabbing intentions that come to a halt when a mysterious man -- who everybody seems to look up to as if he were some kind of prophet -- arrives in town.

Gábor Medvigy's (another Tarr regular) stark black and white cinematography also adds to the film's sense of desolation which governs most of the characters' actions. Sad, beautiful, humane, and sometimes funny, Sátántángo is an extraordinary observation of the impact Communism had in Hungary, as well as of how uncertain, mistrusting, and eventually frustrated, the promise of political change left the people.

This DVD from Facets includes several interesting special features, such as Tarr's peculiar Hungarian TV adaptation of Shakespeare's MacBeth, his shorts Journey on the Plain and Prologue, and a very informative featurette about the restoration process Sátántángo, most fortuitously for us, underwent.

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Posted by cphillips at July 18, 2008 2:35 PM
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