One of the benefits of a son attending NYU’s Tisch School of Cinema Studies is you get an introduction to cinema that the local Cineplex can’t deliver, and a critic-on-the-couch to give an amazing introduction to what is happening on the screen. As faithful readers know, I’ve been entertaining myself this winter with the amazing Criterion Art House collection — 50 films from around the world. This past week my son was home for a few days on spring break. He brought with him a Hungarian film released in 1996, but only released on DVD a year ago — Satantango — a 7-hour epic by Bela Tarr.
That’s right. Seven-hour hours. Three DVDs.
Plot: The final days of a Hungarian communist-era collective farm. I guess late 198os, early 1990s. The “savior” of the farmers, Irimias, is coming, but the farmers, living in utter mud and squalor, think of leaving with what cash they have. Ten minute static shots. Moody music. Chapters revealing one character after another. At first the whole thing has the feeling of Valve’s Half-Life 2 video game and the viewer feels like Gordon Freeman, a visitor to an unfortunate black and white Iron Curtain hell of crumbling plaster, leaking roofs, and incessant rains.
From there — well, no way I am blogging a synopsis of a seven-hour flick. Let’s just say you get into the groove, you take lots of breaks, every now and then you say, “Whoa” and every now and then you nod off. The late critic, filmmaker and novelist, Susan Sontag said, “”Devastating, enthralling for every minute of its seven hours. I’d be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life.”
You can see some clips on YouTube. The opening eight minutes of cows is pretty good. The actual tango scene (I want the accordion music as the ringtone on my new BlackBerry — single most annoying and infectious piece of music ever) is worth a few minutes.
The movie is controversial due to a horrific scene involving a cat (which Tarr swears was unharmed and became his pet). It was pretty rough.
So — I suspect I am like one of a few thousand people to see this. I’d recommend it if you are really into art film. This isn’t a marathon stunt like some of Andy Warhol’s weirdness — 12 hours of the Empire State building. But it is a long committment best savored over a few days. Good luck finding it.