Why this film is touted by critics? It can only be because it’s foreign, in b/w and over 7 hours long.
The cinematography can be described as faintly interesting, but certainly not enough to hide the
complete lack of substance in this film. The dialogue is sparse & unrealistic; best defined as
expressionistic as too the cinematography. The landscape is absolutely featureless. The grey tones
so unrelenting, they give no nuance to the photography. It becomes visually boring within the first 15
minutes: Certainly not a cinematic feast to the eyes like a Bergman film. The film is set in the late
1980's, but it’s difficult to access the time period. It could easily be 1890 or 1940. Only 2 scenes give
any context to the era, one featuring an automobile, the other an electric typewriter. Why would a
director set a film at the end of the socialist era in Hungary, but deliberately take away all visual
references to the place or time period? Even the characters clothes are drab, unrealistic, and
undifferentiated as all seem to be dressed in shabby, too large, hand-me-downs. No one works. This
can be understandable. There’s no guaranteed right to work with the fall of socialism, however
where does everyone find the money to drink with then? Completely unrealistic. Just like the derelict
cows always aimlessly walking so are the characters. There are a few memorable scenes outside the
aimless derelict cows walking or the famous cat torture scene. As to the characters: completely
unmemorable and none command the viewers’ interest. I felt like the film was a massive exercise in
self indulgence. A bad imitation of Beckett by an untalented artist too grandiose to realize (s)he has
no talent. What’s so riveting that it takes over 7 to depict? Nothing. It makes no social or historical
point whatsoever unlike Ordeat by Dreyer or the Ice Man Cometh directed by Frankenheimer, which
do so and are masterpieces. Is Santantango a masterpiece? I had a hard time just watching it.
I found this review:
Picture this eight-minute opening scene. The unmoving camera observes, in black and white, a decidedly unprosperous, perhaps deserted, village resting on a sea of mud. Color would not relieve the drabness. As cattle slowly enter the picture and wander through the village, the camera, with glacial speed, follows them. Distant, barely audible bells accompany their progress. We arrive at an opening between two buildings, observe the cattle make their meandering exit, and realize, once the livestock have decamped, that we’re looking at a perfectly composed shot. Welcome to the world of Bela Tarr, a director who seems to elongate time, forcing us to see the world--often, as in this film, it's a bleak, depressing world--more deeply and with a painful clarity. To see the world and to hear it. The sound editing is as subtle as the visuals are protracted. Those distant bells are like the knell of impending doom, and they return periodically in this 450-minute film. The minimalist story of “Sátántangó” is the story of betrayal. Having been betrayed by their government, the village's impoverished inhabitants, victims of a failed collective farm system, now await salvation and a new beginning in the form of a false messiah named Irimiás (a silver-tongued Mihály Vig). Toward the end, the camera moves from Vig's Christ-like visage to the face of one of the villagers (Miklós Székely), a portrait of anguished martyrdom, the face of a man who has lost all illusions. It is a searing image. This is, undeniably, a demanding film, which repays patient viewing while it taxes the buttocks. (Breaks for sustenance and bathroom use are a must.) But, having seen it a couple of times, I feel that I'm in the presence of something quite profound.
I found this review: