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Sátántangó (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on March 7, 2015

After The Trial, this was next on my list of movies in my collection with the longest gap since the previous viewing (I need a shorter way of saying that).  It had been nearly seven years.  Again, I was hoping for a Blu-Ray, as the DVDs that Facets put out leave much to desired.  But there was also the more obvious impediment to a revisit: the time commitment.  It’s hard enough to find a 7+ hour block of free time, never mind devoting that block to the viewing of a single film.

I ended up having to split it, watching the first two-thirds on Wednesday night and the remainder on this Saturday morning/afternoon.  I don’t recommend this… the movie’s tango-esque back-and-forth in time narrative structure makes it more rewarding to watch in a single session, or at least a single day.  Bela Tarr’s work also has a mesmerizing quality that is less effective when you break the spell.

I won’t be saying much about how amazing this movie is.  In my first review, I praised the film’s virtues (including “populated with characters whose faces are landscapes and landscapes whose faces have character”, a line I’m rather proud of) in a rambling paragraph.  There are more virtues I could write about… the way the camera itself does a tango in the central, iconic dance scene; the masterful manipulations of Irimias; the see-sawing score by Mihaly Vig, used sparingly.  There is much greatness here.  I had the movie on my top 100 list, but I finally removed it last year because so much time had passed without me revisiting it.  Actually, there are a good dozen or so films in my top 100 that I haven’t watched for 5+ years, but this was the only one of those that I’d only seen once.

It won’t be returning to my top 100, at least not until after a third viewing.  Make no mistake, I think it’s brilliant and hypnotic and I hope to make time for an unbroken viewing sooner rather than later.  But I am more fond of The Turin Horse and Werckmeister Harmonies, and both represent Tarr quite well on my list.  Roger Ebert famously said: “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”  This movie isn’t too long (what would I cut? I can’t think of anything) but its length does make it difficult just to put aside the time to watch it the way it should be seen.  And that barrier makes it tough for me to call it one of my favorites, especially when we’re talking about narrowing those favorites down to a rigid number.  I love the experience of being immersed in this world, but the obstacle imposed by the film’s running time keeps it at arm’s length.  Rating: Great (92)


2 Responses to “Sátántangó (rewatch)”

  1. mountanto said

    (Spoilers) Such a fascinating film, and one I hope to see again (especially if a superior DVD ever becomes available). My one issue with it (and this may have been exacerbated by my splitting the film into several sittings, some of them late at night) was that I never really grasped just what Irimias was up to. I get that he rooked the villagers in some form, and I assume they were delivered into the hands of the authorities in one way or another, but exactly what happened was not clear to me.

    That said, I found Tarr’s painstaking tableaux and perfectly orchestrated long takes utterly enthralling to watch, and if I didn’t totally comprehend the plot, the atmosphere came through undiminished.

    • Irimias’s plan is a little hard to grasp, especially because of that scene where he’s trying to buy explosives. But the gist of it comes through, and the overall idea of betrayal under an authoritarian regime.

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