Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Mihaly Vig, Putyi Horvath, Laszlo Lugossy, Eva Almassy Albert, Janos Derzsi
Director: Bela Tarr
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr's 7-hour, black-and-white epic based on the novel by Laszlo Karsznahorkai took two years to film. The complex story follows a group of people living in a dilapidated village in post-communist Hun... more »
Dancing With The Devil?
Alex Udvary | chicago, il United States | 07/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The famous opening shot of Bela Tarr's "Satantango" is done in a single take lasting seven minutes. It is of a herd of cows walking across an empty landscape as the camera pans from right to left.
This is not exactly the kind of shot which would thrill most American audiences. And it may be for that reason Hungarian filmmaker Tarr has not quite gained fame in this country.
"Satantango" is a 7 hour film consisting of extreme long shots done in single takes lasting minutes on average. It was shot in black&white, as are most of Tarr's films.
Originally released in 1994 "Satantango" went on to achieve some fame on the international festival circuit. Only now has Facets released the film on DVD. It will be available next week in a three disc set. Since I use to intern at Facets, and this was one of the films I worked on, I received an advance copy. When the DVD is available to the public, it will become, in my opinion, the major DVD event of the year! Finally this masterpiece can now find a larger audience.
Going back to the first image in the film, many people are going to shake their heads, why? What does this mean? Why is Tarr showing us cows? I think this shot is important for many reasons. First of all it sets up the fact the film takes place in a small village. We are among the poor, working class. The land is deserted. No one takes care of it and no one seems to be watching those cows. And could the herd of cows represent the characters in this film? At one point we hear a character describe the others as a "herd". The characters may be wondering aimlessly just like the cows searching for meaning, a purpose. Of course these aren't answers, merely suggestions.
But "Satantango" is filled with images like this with shots which run just as long. Tarr leaves the camera on moments viewers will find boring, whether is it animals, landscapes or a character's face, Tarr's films are loaded with scenes other directors would throw out and leave on the cutting room floor. But Bela Tarr and "Satantango" represents a different kind of story-telling.
I think the reason Tarr has shot last so long is to put us in a trance, to lull us. I'm reminded of the story told about Werner Herzog. Supposedly he hypnotized his cast in the film "Heart of Glass" to get a dreamlike quality out of them. Tarr too wants to hypnotize us. He wants to viewer to feel uneasy. He wants to attempt to calm us down. When you look at most American films with their rapid edits, the films consist mainly of cuts and jump cuts. Images flash before our eyes so fast sometimes we can't even register what we saw. Tarr comes from a tradition of filmmaking similar to Tarkovsky, Angelopoulos and Antonioni. He takes his time setting up a shot and lets the story move at its own rhythm.
There is not much of a plot to "Satantango". If the film had been told in a more conventional manner it would not take 7 hours to tell. The film follows 8 people from a small community who have put their money together just to be conned by two men thought to be dead; Irimias (Mihaly Vig) and Petrina (Putyi Horvath). These men promise a new life for the people by moving them to a new village where better work can be found. But the villagers not only are suspicious of the two men but each other as several have planned to steal the money themselves. Tarr seems to be making a commentary of greed and capitalism. Many critics regard the film as a commentary on the end of communism. I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far, as Tarr claims he is not a political filmmaker, but there is an undertone of corruption and greed. One character even says people are afraid of freedom but there is nothing to be afraid of. Order though can be frightening. Is this the freedom of democracy and the order of communism?
Despite the simple plot what makes "Satantango" such a must see are the visuals. Tarr gets some truly beautiful shots. The very first time we see the two con men they are walking in the middle of the street as a strong wind storm blows garbage around on the sidewalks. The shot last for two minutes but it is amazing. Another scene does a 360 degree turn, in a close-up, on a woman's face. What's the point? Not a clue, but fun to look at.
One scene which bothers a lot of people is a sequence where a young girl, Estike (Erika Bok) kills her cat. A lot of people wonder why would she do it. Why would Tarr have such a scene? I think this is a reflection on the hierarchy of power. The girl's mother bullies her as does her friend. But who can she bully? She picks on the cat. It is similar to the way the two strangers bully the town into giving them their money. Those who feel they are strong pick on the powerless and defenseless. What match is the cat for the young girl? The girl incidentally is on the cover of this DVD.
"Satantango" also marks, at the time, the second collaboration between novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Tarr. The two had worked on "Karhozat (Damnation)" previously and continued their work in "Werckmeister harmoniak (Werckmeister Harmony)" and Tarr's most recent film "A londoni ferfi (The Man From London)". These films show a shift in style on Tarr's part, from his early films which were docu-dramas which made social commentaries on communist life. Now Tarr has become more psychological.
And what about the film's title? The movie is divided into twelve chapters. Six of them move the story forward, 6 are flashbacks. The structure is suppose to resemble a tango. But what about the "satan" part? Is Tarr showing us hell on Earth? Are these characters experiencing hell? Remember the film Tarr made before this was called "Damnation". The very last scene in the film seems to suggest the end is near. The screen fades to black as we hear a character's voice over. The last words heard are of an impending war.
If there is a valid point of criticism (not comments like, the movie is too long, or in black&white, or its in Hungarian) it is that at times you feel Tarr is making more of an experiment rather than a film. I also never seem to enjoy the last act of the movie. Or in this case, disc 3. Here the film shifts its focus from the townspeople to the con men. I love the first two disc and the way Tarr shows the village and the people and who everyone seems to fear the strangers. They have a mystic power over everyone. But once the film starts to focus more on them they seem harmless. Was this Tarr's point? People will fear are only human and should not be feared? Either way I lose interest in the film's final moments.
Facets has also included some special features including Tarr's rarely seen version of "Macbeth" which aired on Hungarian television in the early 80s. It was done in two shots.
Anyone who considers themself a film lover will be doing themself a great favor by buying this film. I know 7 hours is a long time to sit through. And I know it is in Hungarian. But after watching this film you will be seeing a master filmmaker at work. Anyone who thinks there is nothing interesting being done in cinema anymore has never seen a Bela Tarr film."
Phoust | London, England | 12/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm not going to bore you with the details of the `story' because first of all nothing really happens and secondly it's not important. Mostly its just people looking in and out of windows, walking, or just being, yet that may be what we're doing also by sitting for 7 hours, watching other people by transcending the barrier of celluloid and sharing in their misery. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul and in these Breughelian faces we see the personality of characters shine through and understand their individual and personal agony. This is what elevates this film beyond cinema and art into something more personal like the experience of music. By the end of the film characters feel like real people that we may intimately know.
Parallels are inevitably drawn with the work other directors like Tarkovsky, most notably `Andrei Rublev' (1966) and `Stalker' (1979). Tarkovsky's films had a sense of religious hope whereas Bela Tarr's have none of that yet I felt a certain amount of elation at the end. Albert Camus said that struggling to the height may be enough to fill a man's heart. How true.
This is a film I've waited several years to see since I first saw `Werkmeister Harmonies' (2000) and `Damnation' (1988) on the Artificial Eye DVD release. Rumour circulated for a long time about this eventual release and finally we have it. It's a film more have heard about than actually seen and has always been highly revered among cineastes. Satantango is filled with some of the most remarkable cinematography I've ever seen. So was it worth the wait? Absolutely.
Bela Tarr may be the greatest living director working today.
Highly recommended viewing.
Flipsides of western speed
llull | Santa Barbara, CA | 09/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Living through Sátántángo is like being thrown into a dimension diametrically opposite that of our velocity-laden everyday media sensorium, with its its hyperbolic stimulation of the nervous system. Tarr's film, based on a novel by László Krasnahorkai, evokes with equal explicitness the experience of duration -- the "time-image" -- found in Tarkovsky's films. Tarr takes his time with each scene, with each chapter of the "Dance Order" in which the film is organized. The dance of death, with earth already hell, is the governing metaphor, joined by another powerful one: that of the spider's web, and the intrication in it of victims (both characters and spectators, undoubtedly). The Dance Order runs as follows:
I. The News That They are Coming
II. We are Resurrected
III. Knowing Something
IV. The Work of the Spider (1)
V. The Net Tears
VI. The Work of the Spider (2)
VI. Irimiás Speaks
V. The Perspective, When from the Front
IV. Ascension, Feverdream?
III. The Perspective, When from Behind
II. Nothing but Worries, Nothing but Work
I. The Circle Closes
"History is not at an end, nothing is at an end, we can no longer deceive ourselves that anything with us has come to an end; something continues and is retained." -- Lászlo Krasznahorkai on Sátántángo
Sátántángo concerns a small town whose factory, its sole economy, has closed, where alcohol dominates everyone's lives, where everyone distrusts each other, where every material thing, building, piece of clothing, gives off the air of dilapidation and impending death, while pure existence and its unendurable duration continues on, and drags the relics of humans and objects with it. If that weren't enough, the rainy season has begun and will continue for months without a single letup.
Only two people hold on, however slightly, to semblance of distance and independence: the Doctor and Irimiás, a false prophet who returns, after declaring himself dead, to lead the human remnants into a new era. Both turn out to be informants, linked to the corrupt and capricious power of a state surveillance apparatus. Both practice the art of writing."
Go Region 2 if you want to see this film
M. Adkins | Austin, TX | 07/16/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"I'm afraid to say, that despite ALL of Facets' posturing, they've done a lackluster job on this truly important film. An unconverted PAL source with tons of ghosting and combing. NON-ANAMORPHIC and interlaced. But the Artificial Eye version. It's not super, but it's a lot better than this typically poor job."