|Susan Pettibone - 08/18/2010
For those unfamiliar with the work of Bela Tarr, the elliptical SATANTANGO might not be the best place to start, unless you are very game indeed. At 7
1/2 hrs, Tarr's long takes and slow, harshly observant camera here might prove taxing. That said, it is a powerful and bleak examination of the human condition, a triumph of atmospheric, minimalist cinema, replete with dark and very sophisticated philosophical irony. All is never revealed; most is clear by the end. The story concerns people in an isolated village - a tiny farm coop - in Hungary, and addresses dashed hopes and dreams, and how this all came to be. I'll not address the plot; Alex DeLarge's review does that brilliantly. This is a tour de force. So much happens on so many levels, happens so quietly, profoundly, at a snail's pace and shrouded in mystery.
The villagers themselves are responsible for their debased condition; passivity, meanness, lack of grit, their faith that someone will come along to rescue them, laziness: all shape the disaster that is their life. A ruined society, if ever there was one. "It always was, is now, and evermore shall be" sez Irimias, borrowing from a Christian prayer. Don't think this film won't make you laugh out loud, though. It is full of dark humor. When the good doctor runs out of brandy and realizes he'll have to leave the house, his trek in the sheeting rain to the brandy supply is eventful and darkly funny. Jaw-droppingly realistic drunken dancing deteriorates into complete madness and hilarity, starting when one guy enters balancing a cheese roll on his brow, where it remains for a very long time, considering the ambient circumstances. A scene where KGB-type bureaucrats (but even they are seen ultimately by the narrator as vulnerable humans, surprisingly, and generously) edit Irimias' report renders the grimmest Danish humor light-hearted. That not only the repulsive doctor, but also the most attractive and silver-tongued Irimias, turns out to be a cynical pawn of a distant, totalitarian government blew my mind. Suspense mounts, stiflingly.
Riveting and unforgettable.
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