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Sátántangó dvd cover.jpg
DVD cover
Directed byBéla Tarr
Screenplay by
Story by
Based onSatantango
by László Krasznahorkai
Produced by
  • Mihály Víg
  • Putyi Horváth
  • László Lugossy
CinematographyGábor Medvigy
Edited byÁgnes Hranitzky
Music byMihály Víg
Release date
  • 8 February 1994 (1994-02-08)
Running time
439 minutes
  • Hungary
  • Germany
  • Switzerland

Sátántangó (Hungarian: [ˈʃaːtaːntɒŋɡoː]; meaning 'Satan's Tango') is a 1994 Hungarian drama film directed by Béla Tarr. Shot in black-and-white, it runs for more than seven hours. It is based on the 1985 novel Satantango by Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai, who had been providing Tarr with stories since his 1988 film Damnation. Tarr had hoped to make the film since 1985 but was unable to proceed with the production due to the strict political environment in Hungary.

Sátántangó has received wide acclaim from film critics. In 2012, it appeared in the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound critics' top fifty films.


In a desolate Hungarian village, after the collapse of a collective farm, two people, Futaki and Mrs. Schmidt (Éva Almássy Albert), are in a romantic embrace and are awakened at dawn by the ringing of church bells. Mr. Schmidt (László Lugossy) conspires with another co-worker named Kráner to steal the villagers' money and flee to another part of the country. As Futaki is sneaking out of the Schmidt home, he overhears Schmidt's plans, after which he demands to become part of the scheme — all this being watched by a lonely drunken man known as the Doctor (Peter Berling), who writes the events down in a notebook.

However, the conspiracy fails 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 with his friend Petrina (Putyi Horváth). Meanwhile, Irimiás and Petrina make a secret deal with a police captain in a near-by city to spy on the village community. They are welcomed by their young ally Sanyi Horgos (András Bodnár), with whom they had made a deal so that Sanyi would spread word among the villagers that the two had died.

At the village, the Doctor discovers he has run out of fruit brandy. Unaccustomed to leaving his house, he decides to go out to buy liquor nonetheless. Outside, he is met with hostile weather and the arrival of night. He meets Sanyi’s older sisters, who are destitute prostitutes. Approaching the local tavern to purchase his brandy, he is accosted by Estike (Erika Bók), Sanyi’s little sister, a lonely, mentally retarded girl whose father hanged himself. Estike desperately reaches out for his help. In a state of emotional tension, reacting angrily to the child’s pleas, the Doctor reconsiders and naively tries to apologize as the girl leaves and disappears in the darkness. Chasing after her, the Doctor passes out and collapses in a nearby wood, and is found in the morning by the town's conductor who takes him to a hospital.

The morning before the Doctor left his house, Estike is tricked by her older brother Sanyi into planting a "money tree" in the forest. She tortures and poisons her cat to death, and carries its corpse to the money tree, which she finds has been dug up. After finding out she has been deceived by her brother who has reclaimed the money, she succumbs to silent despair. Marauding through the woods, the girl approaches the local tavern and peers through its window, where most of the villagers dance to accordion music, unaware of the peeping child. Afterwards, she encounters the Doctor and cries out for his help to save her cat. Rebuffed, she retreats into an abandoned ruin, fatally poisons herself and finally dies.

The following day, Irimiás arrives at the village while Estike's funeral is being held. Feigning grief, Irimiás tells the villagers they were all guilty of Estike’s death and talks them into handing him all the money of their proposed venture in order to start a new collective farm in a near-by village. The villagers, except for the innkeeper and the Doctor, walk together, wheeling their few belongings to a distant abandoned building where they collapse into sleep, whereupon the narrator describes the dreams each of them has. Meanwhile, Irimiás and Petrina meet with an accomplice in a nearby city to acquire a large amount of explosives, for reasons never explicitly explained.

The next morning, when Irimiás is late, the villagers decide they have been duped by Irimiás, and fight among themselves. Schmidt and Kráner (János Derzsi) accuse Futaki of having led them into this trap and demand that he return their money. As they beat him up, Irimiás arrives, scolds them for their squabbling and tells them that his plan to establish a new farm has been delayed by the authorities and that their only hope is to scatter around the country for an unspecified amount of time. Kráner demands that Irimiás give their money back. Irimiás does so, but expresses his disappointment at their lack of trust and unreliability, shaming Kráner into once more giving his money to him. Irimiás, Petrina and Sanyi drive the villagers and their belongings by truck to the city, where Irimiás assigns the Schmidts, the Kráners and the Halicses different towns and different tasks, gives them each 1,000 forints and dismisses them. Futaki, however, tells Irimiás that he would rather find a job as a watchman, takes his thousand forints and leaves on his own. The fate of the headmaster remains unclear.

The police receive Irimiás’ devastating report about the villagers’ poor abilities and defects and decide to rewrite it in a less vulgar manner before filing it away and leaving.

The Doctor returns home after thirteen days in the hospital, unaware that Irimiás has taken the entire community away with him. He sits down to write his notes, assuming that all his neighbors are snoring in their beds. He suddenly hears the same bells toll that woke Futaki at the beginning of the film. The Doctor leaves his house again to investigate the ruined church from which the sound of the bells comes, because the bell tower is not supposed to be working. He discovers a madman inside the ruins striking a bell clapper with a metal rod like a gong and shouting endlessly that the Turks are coming. Frightened, the Doctor returns home and proceeds to board up the window in front of his desk, plunging himself into total darkness as he sits and writes the narration which began the film. The tolling of church bells continues throughout the last part of the film and the displaying of the end credits.


  • 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
  • B. Miklós Székely as Futaki
  • Erzsébet Gaál as Mrs. Halics
  • Erika Bók as Estike
  • Peter Berling as the Doctor
  • Zoltán Kamodi as the Innkeeper
  • Péter Dobai as the Police Captain



The structure of the film is based on that of the novel, which borrows, as its title suggests, from tango. The film is broken into twelve parts, and does not always 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 the original Hungarian and in English translation):

  • A hír, hogy jönnek [The News Is They Are Coming]
  • Feltámadunk [We Are Resurrected]
  • Valamit tudni [Knowing Something]
  • A pók dolga I. [The Job of the Spider I]
  • Felfeslők [Unraveling]
  • A pók dolga II (Ördögcsecs, sátántangó) [The Job of the Spider II (The Devil's Tit, Satan's Tango)]
  • Irimiás beszédet mond [Irimiás Gives A Speech]
  • A távlat, ha szemből [The Perspective From the Front]
  • Mennybe menni? Lázálmodni? [Going to Heaven? Having Nightmares?]
  • A távlat, ha hátulról [The Perspective From The Rear]
  • Csak a gond, a munka [Just Trouble and Work]
  • A kör bezárul [The Circle Closes]

Long takes[edit]

The film is composed of long takes, a trait found in Tarr's work. Tarr's adoption of this style has led many people to draw parallels between Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky and Theo Angelopoulos, all of whom use very long takes and let their films play out at a slow pace. According to Tarr himself, there are roughly only 150 shots in the entire film.[1] several shots last nearly ten minutes, such as 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.[2]

The opening shot, in which the camera tracks alongside a herd of cows, lasts nearly eight minutes. There are shots depicting main characters walking (and talking) for minutes at a time, unimpeded by a cut.

The book and the film[edit]

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.[3]

An omniscient narrator can be heard at several points throughout the film, textually quoting parts of the novel. It also adapts every moment in the book, leaving nothing out.


Mihály Víg, who plays Irimiás in the film, was Béla Tarr's film composer since working on Almanac of Fall in 1984, until the director's retirement in 2011 with the film The Turin Horse. Tarr has described his collaboration with Víg, as well as that with his wife and editor Ágnes Hranitzky and cinematographer Fred Kelemen, as "collaborative filmmaking", in which each one of their individual works stands as a relevant production of its own. As with Damnation (1987) and all of Tarr's work since 1994, Sátántangó utilizes a small set of original compositions by Víg that play at strategic points of the film, to establish connections between themes or situations.[4]

For Sátántangó, Víg composed a type of score that has been described as "carnivalesque" by Tim Brayton.[5] It is composed of melancholic and haunting accordion themes, reminiscent of a slow and repetitive tango. The most prominent musical theme of the film is "Rain II", which is featured at most of the film's signature moments. Three tango suites play once at separate moments of the film, "Galicia" and "May I Have This Tango?" in "The Job of the Spider II"—while the villagers feast as Estike watches from outside the bar—and "Circle Dance II" after the villagers arrive at the new building that is supposed to be their farm, while the camera goes through their faces and emotions. Additionally, the unearthly sound of distant church bells plays several times throughout the film. In the 2009 compilation "Music From the Films of Béla Tarr", all of the mentioned tracks appear, and the latter is listed as "Bell I" and "Bell II."[6]


As with the novel upon which it is based, Sátántangó deals with strong pessimistic philosophical themes surrounding the absence of authority, the prevalence of nihilism, and the evils of indifference. The opening shot, lasting nearly 8 minutes, depicts a vast herd of cows wandering in a desolate farm and then vanishing in the distance. Although the scene is largely seen as an establishment of the area and the farm's ambiance, several reviewers thought that it symbolizes the outcome of the story. In the chapter "We Are Resurrected", Irimiás and Petrina broker a deal with a Captain that will lead to the inevitable death or imprisonment of the villagers. The Captain does not appear to be comfortable with the lack of empathy and sociopathic conduct of Irimiás. For this reason, the Captain delivers an extended monologue about the importance of authority, quoting Pericles on the subjects of order and freedom. Some authors have judged the figure of the captain to represent a symbol of authoritarianism during the Hungarian People's Republic.[7]

Regarding the film's most prominent theme, the character of Irimiás can be seen wielding a God-like influence over the villagers to the point of convincing them of doing anything and to make himself greatly feared by them. In "The News is They Are Coming", Futaki and Mr. Schmidt are forced to cut off their plans to escape with the money of the village's farm as a result of Mrs. Kráner telling them of the discovery of Irimiás' return. Futaki is seen reflecting on the character of Irimiás with great fear, saying at one point "he could turn a pile of cow shit into a castle if he wanted to." The divine influence of Irimiás is symbolized heavily throughout the film. In "Knowing Something", the Doctor catches a glimpse of Irimiás and his companions' arrival before he blacks out in the forest. In the three middle chapters, concerning Estike's death, the villagers burst into an impromptu feast at the tavern in fear of Irimiás' imminent arrival. Precisely because of their fear of him, as well as their inherent mistrust of their neighbours, they fail to see Estike in the woods outside as she first watches from a window, proceeds to cry to the Doctor for help and subsequently kills herself. Further on, Irimiás makes use of his rhetoric to persuade the villagers to hand him all of the money they had earned at the collective farm, pledging them to the guilt of Estike's death. In many scenes, Irimiás appears as a knowledgeable and worldly person capable of manipulating the villagers, but also fearful of people less naive, such as the Captain and, to an extent, Futaki. Repressed fear of true authority from Irimiás can also be seen in "Going to Heaven? Having Nightmares?", when he encounters the ruins where Estike committed suicide. While he is ignorant of the event that took place in the ruins, Irimiás nonetheless bows before them, almost instinctively, as an acknowledgement. The fact that the villagers are aware they have lost all prospects of stability, but are still willing to follow Irimiás due to his leadership, places him in the position of an archetypical False Prophet, with more Satanic traits to him than divine ones.[7]

Similarly, the character of the Doctor wields an important symbolic side of the film's themes. Appearing as man of culture and developed interests, the old Doctor is past the point of disillusion of his village, staying indoors most of the time and behaving antisocially. The Doctor only decides to go out after running out of brandy, and his choice is deeply regretted when he is met with hostile weather under the cover of darkness and collapses. In "The Perspective From the Front", the villagers remember they have left the Doctor in the desolate village — although he was actually in the hospital — and Futaki's suggestion is that they leave him behind "to starve." The Doctor seems to be deprived of the villagers' indifference; in spite of his hostile behavior towards Mrs. Kráner, he attempts to help Estike before she commits suicide and is disturbed enough to investigate the ringing of the bells in "The Circle Closes." Out of the entirety of the village's inhabitants, the Doctor seems to be the only one willing to accept death, as he chooses to remain in the abandoned village — perhaps to starve — rather than follow Irimiás.[7]


Sátántangó has garnered virtually unanimous acclaim from critics since its 1994 release, and grew in reputation among American art house circles following the release of the director-approved 2006 DVD from Facets Video. It currently has a 100% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.[8] Tarr's direction has been a frequent subject of praise. Ed Halter called Tarr "one of filmdom's criminally undersung geniuses"; in referencing the film's ominous and illusory tones, Halter wrote, "Tarr's overwhelmingly bleak oeuvre makes Robert Bresson seem like an upbeat party animal by comparison."[9] In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis lauded the director's use of long takes.[10] J. Hoberman of The Village Voice described it as "one of the great, largely unseeable movies of the last dozen years,"[11] and Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader has called the film his favorite of the 1990s.[12] 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 36th place,[13] with 34 critics having voted for it.

Home video[edit]

The film has developed a cult following among certain audiences,[citation needed] due in part to its artistry and length, but also to its having long been unavailable on DVD. The film was only briefly out in VHS and DVD formats in the 1990s, and went out of print very quickly, initiating a period in which only bootlegs transferred from old VHS sources were available. It has since been released in a new transfer supervised by Tarr.

Sátántangó is rarely screened in theatres due to its lengthy running time. Theatres generally show the film either in two separate parts, or in its entirety with two intermissions. Tarr has expressed a wish for the film to be viewed without any interruption.[citation needed]

The scene in "Unraveling” when Estike (Erika Bók) kills her cat led to some difficulties in getting the film shown in the United Kingdom, due to legislation protecting nonhuman animals from cruelty and the British Board of Film Classification 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 and was not killed.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Interview with Béla Tarr: About Werckmeister Harmonies (Cannes 2000, Director's Fortnight) - Bright Lights Film Journal". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  2. ^ Jonathan Romney (24 March 2001). "Interview: Bela Tarr, Hungarian director". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  3. ^ Waiting For the Prince: An Interview with Béla Tarr, by Fergus Daly and Maximilian Le Cain
  4. ^ Béla Tarr, Fred Kelemen and Mihaly Víg, by Michael Guarneri
  5. ^ Tarr Béla Dances with the Devil, by Tim Brayton
  6. ^ [ http://www.discogs.com/Mih%C3%A1ly-V%C3%ADg-Film-Music-From-The-Films-Of-B%C3%A9la-Tarr/release/5874859Music From the Films of Béla Tarr CD]
  7. ^ a b c Jacques Rancière (24 March 2013). "Book: Béla Tarr, The Time After". University of Minnesota Press. Minnesota. Retrieved 31 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Sátántangó (Satan's Tango)". rottentomatoes.com. 8 February 1994. Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  9. ^ [1] Bela Tarr's Slow Burn
  10. ^ [2] "Finding Beauty in the Miserable and the Mundane"
  11. ^ [3] "Bela Tarr's Marathon Masterpiece Casts a Devilish Spell"
  12. ^ [4] Jonathan Rosenbaum: 'Satantango'.
  13. ^ "Critics' Top 250 Films". Sight & Sound Greatest Films. British Film Institute. 2012. Archived from the original on 19 August 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  14. ^ Romney, Jonathan (24 March 2001). "Out of the shadows (interview with the director)". The Guardian. London.

External links[edit]