Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Satantango, Disc 3 - The Wasteland

Satantango begins with a long shot of cattle, presumably emerging from a barn. They roam through what appears to be a deserted farm.

The film ends, seven hours later, with an alcoholic doctor, whose life previously shown was lived in a stupor, now somewhat renewed. He thought he had been imagining the hearing of bells tolling, announcing his death. He may have discovered bells really were ringing, and they were announcing an invasion of Turks. Though he seems clear-headed for the first time, he seals himself into his hovel, barricading the window and blocking out all light - fulfilling his own hallucination as he seals himself inside a tomb of his own making.

And there it is - the bleak message that cattle may be more free than the human race. Nature in this film is powerfully beautiful, but rendered in black and white, that power is stark. The awe and wonder are sucked out of the visuals, leaving a bare bones backdrop of nature as devastator. The rain, the darkness and the vast expanses of bleak land mirror the lives of the people - unable to find any reasons to dream, excel or strive. The landscape is as dark as the human soul.

These people are controlled by Irimias - designated a magician at one point - who can get them to do anything he wants. Irimias is a false magician though - he has no plans, no power other than that of the con - and it all shows through when he comes upon a dense fog in the forest. He drops to his knees - he seems to feel it is mysterious, as if this was something he had never seen before. Of course, such a fog can be magical. But from his more earthbound sidekick, the only response is "Have you never seen fog before?"

When an empty town is shown - and the sound of galloping horses gets louder and louder until the herd appears - running through the deserted streets as if they rule this former human space - the camera drops down, revealing the false magician and his cronies. Again, awe is vanquished, with even more power this time as one says, "The horses have escaped from the slaughterhouse again."

The band of truly beaten humans enters a decaying manor, expecting great things because the magician made them believe the manor contained such things - but there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. The humans accept their lot and go to sleep - as an owl perches, more movement from his eyes and neck than the humans had in the journey coming here. It is obvious who has more control and rules the manor.

Bela Tarr's film is a masterpiece, as almost every shot is beautifully composed and rendered. But Satantango is not for everyone. The long takes and running time are clues: if you cannot soak in such long shots. you will not be able to screen this. And as difficult as it is to suggest this - I would try and make a day of it. This needs to be seen in blocks of time as long as possible.

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