Satanic Run Time

Béla Tarr's Metaphysical Epics

If I told you I was going to see a 435-minute Hungarian epic about a failed collective farm, based on the 12-step structure of the tango and filmed in black and white in the early '90s, you might rightly inquire what it was that I was trying to prove. Nobody sees Béla Tarr's Sátántangó without a gut full of piggish determination—the memory of Susan Sontag's half-recommendation, half-admonition "I'd be glad to see it every year for the rest of my life" floating in from beyond the grave. (As I wrote in April: At first this sounds like hyperbole, but then you think: once a year? Merely "glad"? And how much time did Sontag think she had left?) See it and prove your stamina. See it and prove your cinephilia. See it so you can gush self-importantly about the 10-minute opening shot for years to come (actually, don't; that kind of thing gives me hives).

If I see Sátántangó—it's getting its Seattle premiere at Northwest Film Forum Friday, December 1, through Sunday, December 3, starting at 2:00 p.m. with two intermissions—it'll be because his other two metaphysical epics, Damnation (December 8) and Werckmeister Harmonies (December 15), are like dark lullabies that drag you into their pleasure nets and leave you little room to squirm. As I wrote about the DVD, "There's a still shot near the beginning [of Damnation] of a hill of glasses and steins, beautifully composed and accompanied not by the busy clinking of drinks but by the meditative clack of offscreen billiard balls... You don't just want to look at the scene, you want to look at it while seated in that rural dancehall—drunk, with a bleary gaze that makes the lights curve and run together." Mmm. Bring a flask.

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