Sunday, May 17, 2009

SÁTÁNTANGÓ (Béla Tarr, 1994, Hungary)

A ghostly bell tolls away idle lives amid a community isolated in a purgatory of mud and rain; lost lives condemned to dance with their own devils. Irimias seemingly rises from the dead as Lazarus, plodding through collective broken dreams and speaking with a forked tongue, his arrival transcending their Earthly bondage. But this small collection of dreary people must decide if Irimias is their redeemer…or destroyer.

Director Béla Tarr’s 7-½ hour Magnum Opus peers patiently into the abyss of human nature, examining in minute detail avarice, gluttony, and selfishness. His use of long static takes bring us into the monotony of these characters as he paints a lonely portrait in black & white, a stark contrast to an interior monologue of hopelessness. His circular narrative structure is like a snake eating its own tail, and we enter this solitary world and live our own brief existence in this Autumnal world of bleak existential suffering. Tarr sees the beauty in filth, in the liter-strewn gutters of the human soul, and seeks the faint spark of life amid the everlasting darkness to come. He often films characters walking, his camera soldiering behind, which brings the viewer closer to the drama while distancing us from empathetic contact. His characters often diminish in the frame, walking into the distance swallowed by the fog, a subliminal metaphorical device that echoes with sadness.

The center of the narrative concerns the suicide of a young girl after she tortures her cat: a scene of almost unbearable grief. And here we see the true face of the demon Irimias, using this death to burden the community with guilt, a religious axiom that makes pawns out of people, a damning indictment of free thinking as they give over their money…and themselves. Soon we discover Irimias as a puppet himself, subservient to some higher political power, a tool of flesh and blood that tills the soil of despair.

Final Grade: (A)

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