Satantango

Aisha’s away for the weekend and I’ve got no other plans, the hotbed of social activity that I am, so I’ve made the most of a fairly sunny weekend by staying in and watching the longest film left on the list, Satantango. At 7 ½ hours long, it rounds out the top 5 longest films (though technically two are TV series and one is an eleven-part serial) on the List, which between them have taken up over 48 hours of my life that I’m never getting back. I doubt it’ll come as a surprise to many, but of the 14 films over four hours in length of the List, all of them are from Europe, and only one is in English (Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet). More than half of them are French. America doesn’t start to get a look in until Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America (227 minutes), but it’s got a lot around the 3-hour mark instead. Also, of the 4-hour-plus films, three of them are Holocaust-related documentaries. Yay.
So, Satantango. I’m going to try and make this review be not entirely about the length of the film, but it is bloody long. And needlessly so. Many of the sequences involve nothing happening – the first 9 minutes follows cows wandering around in the mud, later a child walks purposefully towards the camera for what seems an eternity – so that whenever a conversation occurs – other than some sporadic narration, dialogue doesn’t kick in for about 15 minutes – it comes as a shock.
The film sees the inhabitants of a run-down Hungarian village. The villagers have a large sum of money they wish to share out, but some want to leave with more than their fair share, whilst others wish to wait for a man believed dead to arrive, with the possibility of making even more money with his help. This is only the central structure of the plot, for there are several detractions, but no real motives or details are ever expanded upon. We see the same events through different viewpoints, at one point witnessing a drunken dancing session (at least 10 minutes long) from the perspective of a young child outside the window, and then later we’re shown it again, longer this time, but from inside the room. This new vantage point offers nothing new, and just serves to make me wish to never hear an accordion ever again, for the same short tune segment is repeated over and over and over again for the entirety of the dance.
This is, however, a great achievement in terms of direction and cinematography. Much of the film takes place in long, unbroken shots, the aforementioned dancing, for example, which at times are truly breathtaking, and others thoroughly unimpressive due to the lack of anything happening onscreen (it’s a completely unbroken shot! Of someone sat down!).
Though I was never bored, and I was also far from entertained or engaged. The large gaps of nothingness allowed my mind to wander and expand upon what I was watching, and also gave me time to jot down the improvements I’m intending to make to the site over the next few weeks. It did, however, feel like an arduous watch, something I had to work at to pay attention, and after seven hours I’d hoped for a satisfying conclusion to make it all worthwhile, a reward for the patience and sacrifice of time, but alas I was left wanting.
Choose life 5/10
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4 thoughts on “Satantango

  1. Yeah, I'm with you on this. While there are some interesting things in this film, it's a good three times longer than it needs to be.This won't be the only time you have this problem on the 1001 Films list.

  2. It's already not the first, Decalogue was similar, and Heimat (from one of the other lists). I'm still furious at their inclusion, as they're quite clearly TV series rather than films, although in the 1001 book Decalogue cunningly lists it's length as being only as long as 1 episode, rather than the full 10.I'm in awe of how you manage to watch and review the films so thoroughly whilst holding down a teaching job, freelance work, book writing, marriage and two children. Any advice? I struggle with a 9-5 office job and the occasional gym visit! It doesn't help that my girlfriend isn't overly keen on watching most of the films on my list though.

  3. Thanks very much! It started off as just a name, as very little else in my life is connected to films, so it always feels like film competes with everything else in my life to get much of a look-in, but it evolved a little. There's a lot of films out there that are very good, but I just wouldn't recommend them being seen/I'll never watch them again. This way, I can give a film a technically good score, but still say don't watch it.Thanks for reading, I'm a fan of how unique your site is too, and you've been doing good work on the Lambcasts recently.

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