Satantango

Sátántangó
File:Sátántangó dvd cover.jpg
Directed by Béla Tarr
Screenplay by Béla Tarr
Based on Satantango 
by László Krasznahorkai
Starring Mihály Vig
Putyi Horváth
László Lugossy
Music by Mihály Vig
Cinematography Gábor Medvigy
Release date(s)
Running time 432 minutes
Country Hungary
Germany
Switzerland
Language Hungarian

Sátántangó (Hungarian pronunciation: ['ʃatantɒŋgo], meaning "Satan's Tango") is a 1994 Hungarian film directed by Béla Tarr. Shot in black-and-white, it runs for over 7 hours. It is based on the novel Satantango by Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, who has been providing Tarr with stories since his 1988 film Damnation. Tarr had wanted to make the film since 1985 but was unable to proceed with the production due to the strict political environment in Hungary.

Plot

The plot deals with the collapse of a collective farm in Hungary near the end of the Communist period. Several people on the farm are eager to leave with the cash they will receive for closing down the community, but they hear that the smooth-talking and charismatic Irimiás, who had disappeared over two years ago and whom they thought to be dead, is returning. Much of the film's plot concentrates on the impact and consequences of Irimiás' return through multiple POVs as the communards must cope not only with Irimiás' scheming, but that of each other.

Cast

  • Mihály Vig as Irimiás
  • Putyi Horváth as Petrina
  • László Lugossy as Schmidt
  • Éva Almássy Albert as Mrs. Schmidt
  • János Derzsi as Kráner
  • Irén Szajki as Mrs. Kráner
  • Alfréd Járai as Halics
  • Miklós Székely B. as Futaki
  • Erzsébet Gaál as Mrs. Halics
  • Erika Bók as Estike
  • Peter Berling as Doctor

Production

Structure

The structure of the film is based on that of the novel, which borrows, as its title suggest, from tango. That is, the film is broken into twelve parts, and does not necessarily move chronologically, as it follows the tango scheme of going six moves forward, then six back (hence 6 + 6 parts in total). The twelve parts are titled as follows (in original Hungarian and translation):

  • A hír, hogy jönnek [The News Is They Are Coming]
  • Feltámadunk [We Will Rise from the Dead]
  • Valamit tudni [Knowing Something]
  • A pók dolga I. [Spider Job I]
  • Felfeslők [Comes Unstitched]
  • A pók dolga II (Ördögcsecs, sátántangó) [Spider Job II (the Devil's Nipples, Satan's Tango)]
  • Irimiás beszédet mond [Irimiás Gives a Speech]
  • A távlat, ha szemből [The Perspective from the Front]
  • Mennybe menni? Lázálmodni? [Going to Heaven, Having Nightmares]
  • A távlat, ha hátulról [The Perspective from Behind]
  • Csak a gond, a munka [Just Trouble and Work]
  • A kör bezárul [The Circle Closes]

Long takes

The film is filled with numerous long takes, a trait found in Tarr's work. With his adoption of this lingering style, many people have begun to draw parallels between Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky. Both of whom, as witnessed on Tarr's behalf here in "Satantango", usually opt(ed) to let their films play out at a more meditative pace. According to Tarr himself, there are roughly only 150 shots in the entire film.[1] Many shots last up to nearly 10–11 minutes, such as several dance sequences, during which the camera rarely moves, but we see the main characters dance and drink. (Tarr has said that the cast was actually drunk during these scenes.)[2]

The opening shot, in which the camera trucks alongside a herd of cows, lasts nearly 8 minutes. There are numerous shots depicting main characters walking (and talking) for minutes at a time, unimpeded by a cut. Whereas films that feature long takes usually have many short takes to offset the long ones, this film does not.

The Book and the film

This film is based on literary sources and had a screenplay, but much of it was still improvised on set. Tarr had this to say on the subject of having a screenplay, but on his filming method in general:

"No, we never use the script. We just write it for the foundations and the producers and we use it when looking for the money. The pre-production is a very simple thing. It takes always a minimum of one year. We spend a year looking all around and we see everything. We have a story but I think the story is only a little part of the whole movie."[3]

Reception

The film has developed a cult following. In part due to its artistry and length, but also because for a long time it was unavailable on DVD (only bootlegs transferred from old VHS sources were available.) It is now available in a new digital transfer supervised by Bela Tarr himself. Much of its reputation today has spread among film enthusiasts thanks to the word-of-mouth on the Internet. The film was praised by many critics who considered it a crack in the face to the 90s "foreign friendly" films.

Satantango tied for 35th in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll of the greatest films.[4]

The critic Susan Sontag described Sátántangó as "Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I'd be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life."

The film has been the subject of controversy. There is a sequence in which a child tortures and poisons her cat, which led to some difficulties in getting the film shown in the UK because of legislation protecting animals from cruelty and the British Board of Film Censors refusing to certify such films. Tarr has insisted that there was a veterinarian on the set at all times, and that the cat was under the vet's supervision.[5]

The film was briefly out on VHS and DVD in the 1990s, but went out of print very quickly, but is now available on DVD. It is infrequently shown due to its lengthy running time. It is sometimes shown in two parts, or in its entirety with two intermissions. Tarr has said the film should be shown without any interruption, but this is usually difficult to do given the restrictions of both film and video projection.

See also

References

External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • The Bleak World of Bela Tarr by Alan Pavelin
  • Flipsides of Western Speed: Abjection, Rust & Rain
  • A film review
  • DVD of the Week: Satantango, a video review with additional commentary by Richard Brody, The New Yorker.

Interviews

  • An Interview with Béla Tarr
  • A Kinoeye Interview with Béla Tarr

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