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|Directed by||Béla Tarr|
|Produced by||György Fehér
Joachim von Vietinghoff
|Screenplay by||Béla Tarr
|Story by||Mihály Vig
by László Krasznahorkai
|Music by||Mihály Víg|
Sátántangó (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈʃaːtaːntɒŋɡoː], meaning "Satan's Tango") is a 1994 Hungarian film directed by Béla Tarr. Shot in black-and-white, it runs for more than seven hours. It is based on the novel Satantango by Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, who has been providing Tarr with stories since his 1988 film Damnation. 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.
In a desolate Hungarian village, after the collapse of a collective farm, Futaki (Miklós Székely B.) is having an affair with Mrs. Schmidt (Éva Almássy Derzsi), as he is awakened at dawn by the ringing of church bells, even though the nearest church had been destroyed long ago. Mr. Schmidt (László Lugossy) conspires with a group of co-workers to steal the villagers' money and flee to another part of the country. Futaki ambushes Schmidt and discovers his plans, after which he demands to become part of the scheme-all of this being watched by a lonely drunk man known as the Doctor (Peter Berling), who writes the events down in a notebook. However, the conspiracy is terminated when rumors spread across the village that the charismatic and manipulative Irimiás (Mihály Vig), a former co-worker who had been presumed dead, is returning. Meanwhile, Irimiás and his friend Petrina (Putyi Horváth) make a secret deal with a Hungarian military officer somewhere else that involves his return to the village and manipulation of its community.
At the village, the Doctor discovers he has run out of fruit brandy. Unaccostumed to abandon his house for whatever reason, he decides to go out to buy liquor nonetheless. Outside, he is met with hostile weather and the arrival of the night. After purchasing his brandy, he is approached by Estike (Erika Bók), a young girl who desperately reaches out for his help. Behaving aggresively towards the child, the Doctor reconsiders and naively tries to apologize as the girl leaves and disappears in the darkness. After suffering a stroke, the Doctor collapses and is found in the morning by passing travelers who take him to a hospital.
The morning before the Doctor left his house, Estike is tricked by a fellow kid into planting a "money tree" somehwere in the wasteland. After finding out she has been deceived, Estike tries to recover her money to no avail, after she succumbs to silent despair and retaliates by torturing and poisoning a cat. Dangerously marauding in the woods, the girl approaches the local bar, where most of the villagers (including her own mother) dance to Spanish music and tango unaware of the child's suffering and behavior. Afterwards, she encounters the Doctor and cries out for his help, after which she retreats into an abandoned ruin and poisons herself.
The following day, Irimiás arrives at the village while Estike's funeral is being held. Invaded by grief, Irimiás speaks to the villagers hatefully and convinces them of handing him the money of their proposed venture in order to start a new collective farm in another city. The villagers travel separately to a distant abandoned building, where they collapse from sleep and have intense nightmares. The day after, Schmidt and Kráner (János Derzsi) threaten Irimiás with a knife and demand that he returns their money. Irimiás agrees in a manipulative way, and the villagers give their money back to him in shame. It is then revealed that Irimiás plans to murder the villagers with explosives, although it is never shown. As they travel in a truck to the city, each of the villagers is assigned a different task by him and dismissed.
The military officials receive Irimiás' letters detailing the villagers' descriptions, abilities and defects. Assuming their superior is likely to find them offensive and unprofessional, the officials decide to re-write them in a more polite and objective way, after which they retreat, showing no empathy for Irimiás' proposed fate for the villagers.
The Doctor returns home several weeks later, unaware that Irimiás had taken the entire community with him. As he sits down to write some notes, the same bells that woke Futaki up start ringing. The Doctor decides to leave his house once more to investigate the desolate and faraway place where the church once stood, instead finding a madman in the middle of ruins desperately ringing the bells and shouting nonsensical phrases. The Doctor returns home, and possessed by nihilism and fear, covers his windows and fully surrounds himself in darkness.
- Mihály Víg 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
- Peter Berling as Doctor
The structure of the film is based on that of the novel, which borrows, as its title suggests, 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 rising from the dead]
- Valamit tudni [To know something]
- A pók dolga I. [The job of the spider I]
- Felfeslők [The unstitched]
- A pók dolga II (Ördögcsecs, sátántangó) [The job of the spider II (the Devil's Nipples, Satan's Tango)]
- Irimiás beszédet mond [Irimiás gives a speech]
- A távlat, ha szemből [The perspective, if from the front]
- Mennybe menni? Lázálmodni? [Go to heaven? Have a nightmare?]
- A távlat, ha hátulról [The perspective, if from the rear]
- Csak a gond, a munka [Just trouble and work]
- A kör bezárul [The circle closes]
The film is filled with numerous long takes, a trait found in Tarr's work. Tarr's adoption of this style has led many people to draw parallels between Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky, both of whom 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. 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.
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.
The book and the film
This film is based on literary sources and had a screenplay, but 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."
Sátántangó was released to wide acclaim from film critics, who praised Tarr's innovative direction. In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis lauded the director's use of long takes. Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader has called the film his favorite of the 1990's. J. Hoberman of The Village Voice described it as "one of the great, largely unseeable movies of the last dozen years," and Ed Halter proclaimed it a masterpiece. Susan Sontag described Sátántangó as "devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours," adding she would be "glad to see it every year for the rest of [her] life." In the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll of the greatest films ever made, the film tied for 35th place, with 34 critics having voted for it.
Among audiences, the film 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: the film was briefly out in VHS and DVD formats in the 1990's, but went out of print very quickly, so only bootlegs transferred from old VHS sources were available. Sátántangó is now, however, available in a new Facets Video transfer supervised by Tarr. It is infrequently screened due to its lengthy running time - although sometimes shown in two separate parts, or in its entirety with two intermissions. Tarr has said the film should be viewed without any interruption.
The film has been the subject of controversy. There is a sequence in which a child tortures and poisons her cat, which 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.
- A Bright Light Film Journal Interview with Béla Tarr
- Jonathan Romney (2001-03-24). "Interview: Bela Tarr, Hungarian director". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2013-08-04.
- — Waiting For the Prince: An Interview with Béla Tarr, by Fergus Daly and Maximilian Le Cain
-  "Finding Beauty in the Miserable and the Mundane"
-  Jonathan Rosenbaum: 'Satantango'.
-  "Bela Tarr's Marathon Masterpiece Casts a Devilish Spell"
-  Bela Tarr's Slow Burn
- "Critics’ Top 250 Films". Sight & Sound Greatest Films. British Film Institute. 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-12.
- Romney, Jonathan (24 March 2001). "Out of the shadows (interview with the director)". The Guardian (London).