At over 7 hours long, Satantango, Bela Tarr’s magnum opus, is an epic like no other. Though length-wise it might still fall short of the 15-hour long Berlin Alexanderplatz, but unlike the latter it was a far more challenging odyssey ? and a more gratifying one too. This incessantly bleak and visually stunning work is a mesmerizing and tantalizing exercise in minimalism and irony, and its subtle political content, viz. commentary on the fall of Communism and the rise of Capitalism, is masked by its philosophical overtures, meditative tone, metanarrative and cinematic brilliance. The film, divided into 12 chapters, covers the lives of a few impoverished village-dwellers who yearn to escape from their sordid existences, and the impact that the return of a scheming soothsayer has on them.
Constantly shifting back and forth in time, and with oftentimes the same incident chronicled from different points-of-view, Tarr concocted a complex narrative yarn that turned out to be quite revelatory despite the inherent moral and procedural ambiguity of the film’s content. As has come to be known as Tarr’s signature touch, the movie’s black-and-white photography is breathtaking while its cinematography is visually ravishing despite the desolate landscapes and unremitting rains. Also, it comprises of long moments of silence and inaction, with the camera often silently observing or following its characters in real time, and lest one forgets, is filled with incredible long takes including some audacious shots ? like the opening sequence, the bar dance scene, the girl?s walk, the two police officers doctoring a letter, etc. ? that lasts for over 10 minutes without a cut (the entire film is made of only about 150 shots, which is a staggering feat in itself).
Though a daunting challenge even for ardent cinephiles, this monumental masterpiece makes for an engrossing and unforgettable viewing experience.
Feature from the film