Béla Tarr’s seven-hour 1994 epic, referred to as “the Mount Everest of modern cinema”, depicts the collapse of a collectivised Soviet-era farm in rural Hungary.
The film, released in 1994, is the screen adaptation of a homonymous 1985 novel by László Krasznahorkai, Hungary’s best-known contemporary author, famous for his heavy existential themes and demanding prose. Tarr, Krasznahorkai’s long-term collaborator, took on the monumental task of adapting the complex literary masterpiece for the screen, and the result is a no less testing watch.
In an unhurried style — 432 minutes, to be precise — the film portrays a dilapidated village where life has come to a stand-still. While a group of villagers wait for a final payout before abandoning the farm, they get thrown in disarray by the appearance of a former villager, whom they had long assumed dead. With the corruptive influence of money souring the air, the chaos of change casts a strange spell over the community.
Shot entirely in black and white on 35mm film, the Hungarian movie has long been lauded by critics for its compelling story and the unwavering cinematographic beauty of its long, uninterrupted shots — some of which last upwards of 10 minutes. The film was named the 36th greatest film of all time in the 2012 edition of Sight & Sound critics’ poll, and the 65th best film of the 1990s by Rolling Stone magazine. Following its enduring critical acclaim, in early 2019 the film enjoyed a 4K restoration, and returned to cinemas across the world, alongside its first-ever VOD release.
Undoubtedly, the film requires a certain commitment to truly appreciate its majesty. However, if you stay the course, Sátántangó will prove a worthwhile journey into the human soul that is both painful and liberating.
Sátántangó is available to stream worldwide on different platforms.