Tag Archives: Béla Tarr

XL Popcorn – Sátántangó

“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”
*blank stare*

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 456/1007Title: Sátántangó
Director: Béla Tarr
Year: 1994
Country: Hungary

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:

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IMG_3090[1]Food item: (Irish) Soda Bread

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 Rigetwhich 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.

Food item: Game pates

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.

Progress: 791/933

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.

Ebert’s Greats: Werckmeister Harmóniák

List Item: Watch Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies”
Progress: 184/409werckmeister_005Title: Werckmeister Harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies)
Director: Béla Tarr
Year: 2000
Country: Hungary

This was not the first time that I have watched a film by Béla Tarr. Last year I tried out is 2011 film The Turin Horse which was, without mincing words, a bit of a chore to watch. I mean… how often can you watch an impoverished old man peel a boiled potato with his hands.

It is because of this previous exposure that I figured two things. Firstly, I wanted this to be watched sooner rather than later so I would have films less glacially paced to watch. Secondly, this was a rare night on my own and I knew this was a film that my partner would have absolutely no interest in watching because of the aforementioned pacing.

To start looking at Werckmeister Harmonies I do need to look back at The Turin Horse and remark how much more watch-able this film was. Yes, the pacing in Werckmeister Harmonies is slow. Yes, it also features the small number of long takes. However, what ties this film together is a story thread far more engaging than The Turin Horse and one that  is able to tie things together far more effectively.

The story takes place in a Hungarian town in the wake of the Second World War. The people are impoverished and aggravated about the status quo where a small number of the higher ups are living comparatively well. The central character in all this is János (played by a man who resembles a regular sized Peter Dinklage) with nearly every shot in the film featuring his role in the town’s upset.

The spark that ignites the townsfolk into rioting is the arrival of a travelling circus. Carried with them is the stuffed remains of a large whale and the Prince, a disfigured man that we never see. Through the speeches of ‘The Prince’ the riot spreads through the town with looting, arson and (as revealed through a found diary) the bloody rape of two innocent girls.

One thing that the slow pacing of the film serves well is the ultimate climax of the rioting as they storm a hospital. The reason behind this is pure visceral anger. They had already burned and looted their way through the town and the hospital appeared to just be in their way. Not content with the smashing of medical instruments the rioters also beat and murder the patients that they come across. People so weak that you don’t even hear them cry or see them fight back with any meaningful resistance. The symbolic end to their riot just works to show how pathetic and powerless the rioters are… causing the eventual end to the riots.

Werckmeister Harmonies is far from an easy watch due to both the subject matter and the languid pacing of a film which would be quickly paced under the hands of an editor. Then again, a lot would have been lost if things were edited together with the ultimate climactic siege of the hospital being less affecting.