Classic Movie Review: Sátántangó (1994)

Title: Sátántangó
Release Date: 8 February 1994
Director: Béla Tarr
Production Company: Mozgókép Innovációs Társulás és Alapítvány | Von Vietinghoff Filmproduktion (VVF) | Vega Film | Magyar Televízió | Télévision Suisse-Romande (TSR)

Sátántangó is an epic Hungarian film set at the fall of communism that depicts a series of events that occur when the charismatic Irimiás (Mihály Vig), who had been believed dead, returns to an isolated village.  It also 7 hours and 19 minutes long. The movie consists of 12 parts and is structured like a tango, 6 moves forward and 6 back.  Director Béla Tarr wanted his audience to view the film in entirety with no intermission, but there was no way I was going to do that.  So I turned it into a Netflix series, watching one segment per day over twelve days. I expect that people will hate that I watched the movie this way, but I don’t care.

The film is famed for being made up of various long takes including impressive tracking shots such as the opening sequence when a herd of cows walk through the mud in a desolate village.  There are also long shots where the camera rests on an empty space with no action, a still life of sorts, until at last a person moves into the frame.  This could be considered padding to make up the movie’s length, but I find that the focus on the ordinary, combined with the frequent absence of music and minimal dialogue, make it so you focus on and absorb the mundane details.

One of Sátántangó‘s most notorious sequences depicts an abused child, Estike (Erika Bók), finding a way to find some control over something in her life by torturing and poisoning her cat.  I had to skip ahead through some of this segment, because animal abuse, even when it’s simulated is not something I can bear to watch.  There are also some funny parts of the film, including a gathering in the local bar where the villagers dance sloppily to accordion music while one man walks around with a cheese roll balanced on his forehead.  But most of this film is pretty bleak, and there are many, many, many long shots of people and groups walking down long, muddy roads for extended periods of time.

This movie is universally held in high-regard, and I cannot deny the brilliance of the filmmaking and ambition behind this movie. I suppose anything I’d have to say about why I don’t like it would sound gauche.  So I’ll just say that I feel like this movie should be shown at an art museum, projected on a large wall of an otherwise empty room.  People can wander in and out and experience the film for as long as they like. It’s clearly a work of art.

If you’d like to know what it is like to watch Sátántangó in a single sitting in a cinema experience, you can watch this humorous video I found:

Rating: ****