“So Peter, what did you do with your Monday off?”
“Ate quail pate and watched a 7 and a half hour long Hungarian arthouse film”
There are plenty of more productive things that I could have done today. Seeing how I spent Saturday working (6 hour travel there, 5 hour meeting, 5 hour travel home) I managed to get the following Monday off as time in lieu. It’s one of those rare times where I am completely alone all day, which means I can dive into the films that hubby has opted-out of watching. So, I resolved to watch Sátántangó.
Someone actually posted the above image online, and it is incredibly true. This is not my first foray into Tarr’s bleak world. Having already seen Werckmeister Harmonies and A torinói ló there were a number of things I have come to expect from his films. Not just the use of long takes and black-and-white, but also a sense of nihilism.
Thing is, seven and a half hours of this is a lot different two. For one thing, it takes pretty much a whole day to watch it. Knowing about one of the more famous scenes it was definitely not a film to keep on whilst you are eating. So, I planned my watching:
List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books
After some toasted soda bread with Marmite, it was time to start the movie. Thinking about it, I am not entirely sure why I went for Marmite over some food list honey that I have been saving… I guess I didn’t want anything sweet.
Having watched the film, I really could have done with something sweeter. Rather famously, Sátántangó begins with a 8-9 minute tracking shot of cows walking down a street. The weird thing? It was oddly captivating.
That’s the thing with Sátántangó, it is minimalist, slow and strangely hypnotic. In total, the film is divided into 12 parts, the parts corresponding the dance steps of a tango (ergo the name). It is also divided into 3 parts since no one can be expected to watch a 7.5 hour film without needing a bathroom break.
Unlike Riget, which fills it’s many hours with a large amount of content, you could probably cut Sátántangó right down into a 2 hour film; possibly even less. The main narrative thread of the film surrounds money that is about to be given to the members of this small village. Some people are conspiring to take all the money for themselves, leaving the rest to starve. The main person who wants to take the money being a charismatic and Messianic con artist.
Seeing how this is a very very long film there are a lot of scenes to talk about, but I am going to focus on two that occur in the middle of the film. Both the characters involved in the scenes pretty much only appear in isolation from the rest of the cast. I guess that is one of the reason that these scenes stick out so much.
The first of these is with the village doctor as he runs out of brandy. Earlier in the film we have already witnessed one side of the scene, but now we see it from his perspective. He takes down notes in his house across the way, carefully taking down all the actions that are taking place. It is a good introduction into this round, alcoholic character whose final actions of plunging the screen into darkness (right at the end of the film) serve a fitting end to all the bleakness that we have witnessed.
This scene, and his subsequent scenes, stand out to me because in many ways this doctor is ostracised from the group. Also, his quest to replenish his brandy is depicted not as a simple jaunt to a shop, but as something truly epic and laborious.
The main scene that stuck with me, however, involves a girl and her cat. The scene I am talking about is not the infamous one showing her torturing her cat and then killing it with milk that has been spiked with rat poison. The scenes with her and the cat are upsetting, but I think when people say ‘cat torture’ I was expected something a lot more… graphic. I am very glad it was not as bad as that. It was still not easy to watch though.
No, the scene I am talking about occurs almost an hour before the second section leaves, when she kills herself after ingesting rat poison. I know that there are more more bleak scenes in the final section of the film (such as the nightmares of the villagers as they all sleep in an abandoned house), but this was especially poignant. I mean, just how isolated and pointless must she have felt to go to that abandoned building and eat a handful of poison? Just her lying there clutching the corpse of her recently deceased cat had an odd beauty to it. Far more than the drunken dancing where we scene a couple eating a loaf of bread Lady and the Tramp style.
At the second interval, it was time for lunch. Now, I bought a bunch of these game pates and terrines at Lidl. I walked the hour and a bit round trip in the morning so I could peruse some of the more unsual items. £3.99 for six small jars of game pate and terrine? Pretty much a bargain.
Considering how I left the film at a drunken dance right before they discovered that the neglected cat-torturing girl had killed herself with rat poison… I wasn’t exactly the hungriest.
The third and final part of the film shows the village at their most vulnerable. It is fairly obvious that this is a place where despite the passing of time, nothing really changes. The suicide of the girl, however, has left some monumental ripples. Her act, which stemmed from powerlessness and neglect, truly helps to amplify the powerlessness of the entire group.
By the time this film ended it was nearly five in the afternoon, the day being almost completely swallowed up by this movie. It took an awful lot to sit down to watch this and in retrospect I wish I had watched the three parts separately. It is not as if they would have lost any momentum. So, if you have yet to watch this movie and you want to do it at home… maybe do that.