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Bela Tarr’s Satantango

This is a somewhat unrepresentative excerpt from Hungarian director Bela Tarr’s 7 hour long Satantango.  Unrepresentative only in that pulled out of the context, you won’t get the dramatic mood change following the previous much more static scene, and also unrepresentative because this does not adequately relay the beauty of the original images.

As far as the look of the film, imagine at times if Bill Brandt and at other times Andre Kertesz were behind the camera.  It is an astonishingly beautiful black and white film which more closely approximates photographic still composition than any other I have seen.  And it is relatively slow.

Shots tend to be held for some time which end up causing you to reevaluate your whole approach to film, and while often such ruminations involve films that wear thin, or are boring on some level, this film which is so long, and so calm, somehow pushes through to a place where it enthralls. (I cannot comment on what it would be like to watch this at one go in a theatre but were it to come to town I would go).

What I realized as I watch the opening of this film was that this filmmaker was not using tricks to force the narrative and to dominate my point of view.  A shot is set and held for some time as things take place within the shot.  It gives the sense of looking through a window rather than through someone’s shifting perspective.  This is certainly not new, and could be considered quite traditional; an old way of film.  The difference is that in the past this was more due to people being naive at the art.  Here it is someone who realizes that the tools of exposition need to be purposefully rather than automatically used.

Tarr is one of those film makers who shows you the whole act rather than abbreviated moments which convey the act.  When a person far away starts walking toward you, they walk all the way, uncut.  This in itself is a debatable asset but within the aesthetic it works, and with the beauty of the shots, and I speak of a black and white textural and often high contrast photography, it gives you time to appreciate.

This is the cinematic equivalent of the slow movement.

Werckmeister Harmonies by Tarr is not quite as remarkable as this masterpiece but still worth watching.

3 comments on “Bela Tarr’s Satantango

  1. Hi, that was definitely an awesome post. I had actually been looking for a photo printing related blog for a while now. Great! Do you offer a subscription service? because I can’t seem to locate the details anywhere.

  2. If you mean how do you keep up with my blog, then do it the way I do with others, and let Google Reader do it but there are plenty of other similar services.

  3. […] Valentine and then later The Temptations of St Tony (a film very different from but reminiscent of Bela Tarr and also one of that stream of recent great looking black and white films like White Ribbon) just […]

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