Sátántangó

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Sátántangó

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Most cineastes keep lists of films they're eager to see on DVD, but Béla Tarr's seven-and-a-half-hour murk-athon Sátántangó is a rare world-cinema classic that fans haven't wanted to see at home. Many feel that Sátántangó should only be seen on the big screen, in one sitting, and that smaller screens and DVD's start-and-stop capabilities will rob the film of its eccentric majesty and its equally punishing and transcendent cumulative effect. And given the poor DVD presentation of other Tarr titles, the pertinent questions are "How does Sátántangó look on DVD, and how does it play?" It looks fantastic. Sátántangó takes place on a Hungarian collective farm toward the end of the communist era. Even more than the plot—about a silver-tongued activist who bilks venal farmers out of a government settlement—Sátántangó's reputation is tied to its style and atmosphere. Tarr shoots in luminous black-and-white, and lets his camera roam smoothly over muddy landscapes and crumbling interiors, taking in the sagging faces, sunken eyes, and matted hair. Every raindrop and plume of smoke adds to the texture, and given that Sátántangó is anchored by two lengthy wordless sequences—one in which a corpulent drunk tries to work up the energy to leave his house, and one in which a disturbed young girl tortures her cat—that texture has to be right. Secondly, for all its length and relative inaction—exacerbated by the way Tarr and novelist László Krasznahorkai double back and show events from different perspectives—Sátántangó is curiously mesmerizing, even shrunken to TV size. The movie unspools like a modernist novel in which the audience is asked to supply much of the prose, and oddly enough, what might seem tedious at four hours is more enveloping at almost twice that length. Though DVD lets viewers put Sátántangó down and pick it back up—again, like a novel—it's hard not to fall into step with Tarr's vision of a world where enormous pigs, rutting cows, and tenacious spiders say as much about humanity as the sodden sad-sacks meant to represent it.

Key features: A handful of bonus Tarr films, including a TV production of Macbeth in which he first experimented with his long-take technique.

Filed Under: DVD

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