Infobox Film
name = Satantango

image_size =
caption =
director = Béla Tarr
producer =
writer = László Krasznahorkai (novel)
Béla Tarr
narrator =
starring = Mihály Vig
Putyi Horváth
László Lugossy
music =
cinematography =
editing =
distributor =
released = 1994
runtime = 450 min.
country = Hungary / Germany / Switzerland
language = Hungarian
budget =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website =
amg_id =
imdb_id = 0111341

"Satantango" (orig. "Sátántangó") is a film directed by Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Shot in black-and-white, completed in 1994, it runs an epic 7½ hours in length. It is based on the novel "Sátántangó" by Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, who has been providing Tarr with stories since his 1988 film Kárhozat ("Damnation", 1988). Tarr had wanted to make the film since 1985 but was unable to proceed with the production due to the strict political environment in Hungary.

Plot synopsis

The plot deals with the collapse of a collective farm in Hungary near the end of Communism. Several people on the farm are eager to leave with the cash they will receive for closing down the community, but they hear that the smooth-talking and charismatic Irimias, who had disappeared over two years ago and whom they thought to be dead, is returning. Much of the film's plot concentrates on the impact and consequences of Irimias' return through multiple POVs as the communers must cope not only with Irimias' scheming, but that of each other.

Primary cast

*Mihály Vig as Irimiás
*Putyi Horváth as Petrina
*László Lugossy as Schmidt
*Éva Almássy Albert as Mrs. Schmidt
*János Derzsi as Kráner
*Irén Szajki as Mrs. Kráner
*Alfréd Járai as Halics
*Miklós Székely B. as Futaki
*Erzsébet Gaál as Mrs. Halics
*Erika Bók as Estike

Structure & style of film-making

The structure of the film is based on that of the novel, which borrows, as its title suggest, from tango. That is, the film is broken into twelve parts, and does not necessarily move chronologically, as it follows the tango scheme of going six moves forward, then six back (hence 6 + 6 parts in total). The twelve parts are titled as follows "(in original Hungarian and translation)":

* A hír, hogy jönnek [The News that They are Coming]
* Feltámadunk [We are Resurrected]
* Valamit tudni [Knowing Something]
* A pók dolga I. [The Work of the Spider I]
* Felfeslők [The Net Tears]
* A pók dolga II (Ördögcsecs, sátántangó) [The Work of the Spider II]
* Irimiás beszédet mond [Irimiás Speaks]
* A távlat, ha szemből [The Perspective, when from the Front]
* Mennybe menni? Lázálmodni? [Ascension? Feverdream?]
* A távlat, ha hátulról [The Perspective, when from Behind]
* Csak a gond, a munka [Nothing but Worries, Nothing but Work]
* A kör bezárul [The Circle Closes]

The film is filled with numerous long takes, a trait almost synonymous with Tarr's work. With his adoption of this lingering style, many people have begun to draw parallels between Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky. Both of whom, as witnessed on Tarr's behalf here in "Satantango", usually opt(ed) to let their films play out at a more meditative pace. According to Tarr himself, there are roughly only 150 shots in the entire film [ — A Bright Light Film Journal Interview with Béla Tarr] . Many shots last up to nearly 10-11 minutes, such as several dance sequences, during which the camera rarely moves, but we see the main characters dance and drink. (Tarr has said that the cast was actually drunk during these scenes.),6737,461921,00.html — A Film Guardian Interview with Béla Tarr] The opening shot, in which the camera trucks alongside a herd of cows, lasts nearly 8 minutes. There are numerous shots depicting main characters walking (and talking) for minutes at a time, unimpeded by a cut. Whereas films that feature long takes usually have many short takes to offset the long ones, this film does not.

Also worth mentioning is that although this film is based on literary sources and Tarr and his team did write a screenplay, much of it was still improvised on set. Tarr had this to say on the subject of having a screenplay, but on his filming method in general:

::"No, we never use the script. We just write it for the foundations and the producers and we use it" ::"when looking for the money. The pre-production is a very simple thing. It takes always a minimum of one year." ::"We spend a year looking all around and we see everything. We have a story but I think the story is only" ::"a little part of the whole movie." [ — "Waiting For the Prince: An Interview with Béla Tarr", by Fergus Daly and Maximilian Le Cain]

Reception, influence & availability

The film, understandably, has developed a cult following. In part due to its artistry and length, but also because for a long time it was unavailable on DVD (only bootlegs transferred from old VHS sources were available.) The film is now available in a new digital transfer supervised by Bela Tarr himself. Much of its reputation today has spread among film enthusiasts thanks to the word-of-mouth on the Internet.

The film was praised by many critics who considered it a crack in the face to the 90s "friendly foreign" film. The critics argued that Satantango was made for the art of film, as opposed to many foreign films in the 1990s, which seemed more concerned with reaching a crossover audience than making a deeply artistic film.Fact|date=February 2007

The late novelist and filmmaker Susan Sontag described Sátántangó as "Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I'd be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life."

The film has been the subject of controversy. The film has a sequence in which a child tortures and poisons her cat. This led to some difficulties in getting the film shown in the UK because of legislation protecting animals from cruelty, and the British Board of Film Censors refusing to certify such films. Tarr has insisted that there was a veterinarian on the set at all times, and that the cat was under the vet's supervision. Tarr has also said that the cat is now his pet.

The film was briefly out on VHS and DVD in the 1990s, but went out of print very quickly, but is now available on DVD. It is infrequently shown due to its lengthy running time. It is sometimes shown in two parts, or in its entirety with two intermissions. Tarr has said the film should be shown without any interruption, but this is usually difficult to do given the restrictions of both film and video projection. It is considered a masterpiece by critics, and people who have seen it are usually astonished by its ambition, its artistry, and its uncompromising vision.

Considering Satantango's status as a cult film similar to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz", the new DVD release was eagerly anticipated.


External links & further reading

*imdb title|id=0111341|title=Sátántangó
* [ An Interview with Béla Tarr]
* [ A Kinoeye Interview with Béla Tarr]
* [ The Bleak World of Bela Tarr by Alan Pavelin]
* [ Flipsides of Western Speed: Abjection, Rust & Rain]

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