Starring: Mihály Vig, Putyi Horváth, Miklós B. Székely
Director: Béla Tarr
Running Time: 420 mins
Sátántangó is a Hungarian film about a small village commune in post-Communist Hungary which has fallen into despair. Everyone in the town is lost in life, and it seems as if the apocalypse has come and made their lives a living misery, made even worse by the impending arrival of a worrying stranger.
Watching films like this is way, way out of comfort zone, but I’m proud to say that I’ve watched Sátántangó, and come out the other side of this SEVEN HOUR epic intact (although pretty exhausted to be truthful).
This is the sort of film that very few people can really get down to the nitty gritty meaning and significance of it all, and I’m afraid to say that I’m not one of them. I’m no film scholar, and I’m certain that I’ve missed out huge chunks of what this film is really saying due to the fact that I’m just not perceptive enough. However, what I want to give you is a simple and honest review of this classic film that general audience members like me can relate to, so if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of this film, I’m sorry but you’ve come to the wrong place.
Right, let’s get into it then, and begin with the elephant in the room, the mammoth running time of 420 minutes – 7 full hours (if you watch it at 25 frames per second, in the cinema, it’s a full half an hour longer).
The first thing that I can say is that the film is just too long. Huge credit has to go to Béla Tarr for pushing the boundaries of what is really acceptable as a film, and even more so for putting together such a long story into film, but there’s no doubting that I was very often bored out of my mind watching Sátántangó.
The first four hours are pretty heavy, but I was willing to accept what Tarr was doing, and try and get into the crux of the film beyond just its story, and look at the expertise of the cinematography and acting too (which I’ll get to in a second). However, there came a point at around the five-hour mark where I just lost all my patience.
The slow shots became painfully frustrating, I had forgotten what had happened previously because it was so long ago, and that made understanding the story even harder, and every shot that just lingered for a little too long really got on my nerves, and it made for an extremely painful two-hour run to the finish.
So, that’s what I felt about the extreme length, but there are other things to talk about in this film, so let’s look at them.
First and foremost is Béla Tarr’s direction. In the first four hours, I was hugely impressed with Tarr’s creation of an incredibly bleak and eerie atmosphere in this former people’s commune, and his use of slow-moving camera work, an eerie score, black-and-white imagery and so many other techniques all came together to make an often mesmerising film to look at.
There are times, however, when Tarr goes way too far with his slow cinema. As I said earlier, some shots just linger for far too long, and don’t help the atmosphere at all, and there are some scenes that just feel completely unnecessary in the grand scope of the story and the vibe, particularly a non-stop ten minute dancing scene where the actors are actually drunk on set. I felt it had no bearing to what was going on, and it really sparked my frustration with the slow pacing of the film.
Beyond that, the story and the acting is pretty good. It’s not a hugely engrossing story, and can be at times difficult to follow given that it isn’t particularly linear, and can be easily forgotten in the frequent ten minute long shots of silence. The acting is deliberately downbeat, but in general it plays little role in the film. Out of the seven hours, there’s probably about an hour or so worth of dialogue, so way more attention has to be paid to the landscape shots and the silence than the acting.
Overall, Sátántangó is a film like very few others, and an experience I will not forget. Its story isn’t stunning, nor is its acting, and the excessively long runtime becomes infuriating after about five hours, but the clever directing and successful creation of atmosphere in the first four hours is hugely impressive, so that’s why it gets a 7.0 from me.