Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Satan Tango Bela Tarr

ink drawing inspired by Satantango
from Satantango
Satantango, Bela Tarr, is like walking into a cathedral. Things appear all at once in an overall impression. One forms a general idea, then sets out to explore. It takes some time to tour the cathedral. After a few hours, one’s appreciation deepens as one becomes familiar with details. It isn’t until towards the end of the seven hour movie that the opening scene of a voice talking about the sound of bells becomes clear. Some works of art need to be experienced several times. The first time one gets to know the lay of the land. Certain art objects are intended to be enjoyed this way. The longer one becomes involved in contemplating or exploring the work, the greater the riches one finds.

Lohbado watched the seven hour movie over a space of three nights. On a first viewing, what struck him most was sensual textures, for example, the thick heavy wet earth, rain on the windows, plaster falling off the walls, old woodwork, then the closeups of faces, the deep wrinkles, puffy flesh around the eyes, worn clothing made of coarse cloth, holes in the cloth and frequent mending. Then there are the wash basins, lamps, the bottles used to contain and serve alcohol, the glasses, cups, rustic cupboards... that’s what this movie was all about, on one level.

During a first viewing Lohbado was struck by many themes and a sadness or melancholy that goes with a very old place with a long history that one might wish to forget. There is reference to wars, a fear of surveillance and authorities who have the power to interrogate a person. The outcome of an interrogation, as an administrator states, is largely determined according to the administrator's mood. The bell tower at the beginning had been hit during bombing of a previous war. Therefore the doctor was surprised to hear it ringing. He hadn’t heard it ring in decades. It’s ringing is unworldly, unlike any bell Lohbado had ever heard. It’s not loud. It comes from a distance, like the sound of an orchestra playing complex chords from a Mahler symphony. The bell vibrates in the nervous system and creates a magical effect on the mind.

The texture of sound is evident throughout the movie, the bells, the footsteps of the girl on her last tragic walk, the sound of liquid being poured from a jug into a bottle then into a glass, the sound of breathing, chairs moving as one sits down in a bar and of course, the moody sound track, mostly accordion music, provided by the composer Mihály Víg.

All the senses are fully engaged in the movie. References to smell, taste, touch, sound and sight... In this regard, it’s similar to Woman of the Dunes, by Teshigahara, where sand is on one level the main character. Here a main character is the sensuality of a very old poor country village on a desolate landscape.

On the next viewing, Lohbado intends to pay more attention to the socio-psychological features of Satantango. Perhaps Satan is Irimiás... a sociopath, who has the powers of a cult leader. He brings the poor simple people under his control. He speaks in a high and mighty tone about the emptiness of appearances and the need to prepare for another world. They place their trust in him as he promises them a better life. Then in one of the final scenes, he describes his true feelings. He has to be careful not to laugh at how easy it was to fool the suckers. Neither he nor the authorities have any compassion for the people struggling to survive in harsh conditions. They view them as simpletons to be bled, exploited and spit out. The satanic character’s plan was to blow up the villagers with dynamite. He managed to take all their money. Instead of blowing them up, he took them to a bleak, desolate small city and told them to “scatter.” The authorities who investigate play along with satan’s assessment of the people. They got what they deserved.

So what is this all about?

It’s not a morality tale. It’s the presentation of a complex world. It implies a lot, but can’t easily be summed up by saying it’s this or that. The world of Satantango is presented with slow, long takes, little camera movement. The viewer can have a good look at the details of each scene.

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