Friday, February 25, 2011


This is one of the hardest movies I've ever had to try to have an opinion on. Satantango is seven hours long, which makes it the seventh longest non-experimental film of the last 20 years according to Wikipedia. It is composed entirely of long takes, and not just regular long takes, long takes that last for minutes at a time regularly. Not a whole lot happens in those seven hours, despite the fact that several events take place off screen and are described by a narrator or just implied. The story has an obvious ambition to it, although to be honest I'd have a hard time describing to you what it actually is about. It's easy to lose focus when the characters are speaking Hungarian, or not at all for minutes on end. This all sounds like a painfully boring experience, but somehow it wasn't. Part of it might be that I watched it in three chunks thanks to getting the discs separately from Netflix instead of one seven hour long sitting.

But there really is something about the movie that makes it compelling despite everything I've described, maybe even partially because of it. It probably could have even lasted longer. Long takes can be used effectively to make a movie seem more real. We can grasp and be entertained by quicker editing techniques, but there are no cuts and camera angles in real life, and watching something happen in real time can be captivating and even hypnotic. There's also just an undeniable artistry to the way director Béla Tarr and his crew painstakingly set up and shoot all of these scenes, somehow finding new ways to show people walking somewhere or sitting in a room that don't get tiring before the film ends. Maybe I'm just searching for a way to explain why I wasn't really bored by an epically long movie about Hungarian farmers screwing each other over, but I really wasn't. Well, maybe I was at times, and I helped stave off those feelings by doing some other stuff during particularly long and wordless moments. But it is pretty amazing how watchable it still ended up being.

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