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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

SATANTANGO (1994)

At a jarring 7 and a half hours, SÁTÁNTANGÓ must be considered (literally) Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s magnum opus, but it’s neither his best, nor the best way into his mesmerizing maxi-minimalism. It’s a depressing tale, set in a small, isolated, deeply miserable farm village someplace in the Hungarian plains, where the autumn rains never cease, turning the fields into bogs and making roads impassable. Tarr structures the film in a series of discrete character studies, with occasional backtracks, over the course of a long rainy day, turning his attention ever so slowly from an alcoholic doctor to a trio of opportunistic conmen, from a mentally challenged girl to the local barman (apparently the only going concern in the village), clientless prostitutes, etc. The no-more-than-decent ‘restored’ FACETS DVD (non-anamorphic, interlaced picture, compressed grey-scale) arranges this first long day on two separate 2-hour discs which has the unfortunate effect of making the first four hours feel padded, larded with too many of Tarr’s signature long-long takes served up merely as technical display. No doubt Tarr feels the extended running time & visual contemplation is needed to set up the final three hours, a remarkable work in itself as the townspeople collectively give their savings to the conman and his associates on the vague promise of future success. Unexpectedly, the film’s high point drops everyone we’ve met for a stunning set piece, played out between a couple of detectives as they write up their report on these activities and take a break to eat lunch at their desk. All in real time. The scene is an astonishment; the film, not the masterpiece often claimed, but still pretty unmissable.

DOUBLE-BILL: Okay, not really a Double-Bill . . . after 7 & a half hours, no thanks! But newbies to Tarr would be better off getting to know the man thru his next film, WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES/’00, an unqualified masterpiece.

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