cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2}

6 February 2009

Cinema started as simple, single-shot, full-length proscenium compositions resembling theater, the only thing it could find to reference to commercialize itself. By the next twenty years, there was a new vocabulary. The closeup, montage, and parallel storytelling fragmented the continuity of the previous proscenium-encased static-frame full-figure images. Separate fragments were now placed together to form meaning; the director could play with time and cinematic space. It was exciting. Was this an inevitable direction or just one road cinema chose to take?….Somehow Bela has gotten himself back there psychically and learned things all over again as if modern cinema had never happened.

Gus Van Sant        (Source:  blog Girlish, post  Bela Tarr)

S: It seems to me that there are certain sections of Satantango which emphasize the image far more than the story, and vice-versa. Do you see a tension between image and narrative?

B: I don’t think they are detached, because the story is always a part  of  the image. In my vocabulary, story doesn’t mean the same thing it means in American film language. There are human stories, natural stories, all kinds of stories. The question lies in where you put the emphasis on what’s most important. There are everyday tidbits that are very important. For instance, in Damnation, we leave the story and look at a close-up of beer mugs. But for me, that’s also an important story. This is what I mean when I say that I’m trying to look at things from a cosmic dimension. If I could describe a film fully by telling you the narrative, I wouldn’t want to make the film. It’s time that film frees itself from the shackles of linearity. It drives me crazy that everyone thinks film must equal linear narrative.

A Brief interview with Bela Tarr

….not a film you watch so much as an environment, world, which you inhabit for a time.

Jared Rapfogel

…..bells, cows, the destruction of old furniture, dipsomania, rain, dogs, and many other beautiful things…

The Art of Memory (blog)

Structure and detail

Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity:

There are twelve chapters in all, told from differing viewpoints with overlapping narratives – the story progresses in linear fashion, but the start of a new chapter may move events back a few hours to replay part of the previous chapter from a different angle. The narrative itself is for some while ambiguous in structure – halfway through I began to suspect I was now watching events that occurred before those of the opening scenes, a view I later reversed. Not that this necessarily matters, as it becomes increasingly evident that storytelling in anything approaching a traditional sense is not what Sátántangó is all about.

Kill the Snark:

Satantango is based upon a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Apparently in synch with the source material, it is arranged like a tango: six steps forward, six steps back (but not in that order). Some scenes advance the plot, while others step backward and show the same scene from a different character’s perspective, so the audience slowly learns what is happening to multiple characters concurrently as they criss-cross each other’s paths, each trapped in his own world to the point of obsession and paranoia.

Below, the twelve chapter  headings as translated* into English in subtitles on the Artificial Eye Disk,  with my own ‘script’ ( impressionistic action, some  dialogue and transcribed voice over/narration), to remind the person who, like me, who has watched the film then immediately forgets which bit is where.

In this synopsis of the Facets DVD, “Rise from the dead” becomes, “We, the Resurrected”, “Only trouble and Work” is  “Only problems and Work”. The final chapter is “The Circle is Completed” which is quite a way from the AI’s ” No Way Out”.

Cow scene

SEE Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film)

More thoughts on cows in note 7. Cow sand horses.

Chapter 1. The News is They are Coming

Church bells. Window. Futaki and Mrs. Schmit have been getting it together. Mrs. Schmidt’s bad dream. Schmidt arrives.


Futaki hides outside.

Knocks on the door as if he has himself just arrived.  All three conspire over money they hold earned by the commune.

Mrs Kraner brings rumour Irimiás and Petrina are coming back.

Voice over as Futaki and Schmidt walk off in rain:

So Schmidt went first, Futaki staggered behind him. He was trying to feel his way with his cane in the dark…And the relentless rain merged Schmidt’s swearing [..] Futaki’s cheery, encouraging words as he repeats:

“Never mind, old man, you’ll see we’ll have a great life! A great life!”

2.  Rise From the dead

[1] Irimiás and Petrina.

Irimiás and Petrina as they walk down a wind-blown road towards what at first seems like a hospital but reveals itself as a government building, possibly a police station, where the two are grilled and given a lecture on order and freedom and collaboration by an unnamed uniformed official. The pair are humble and obliging, but back outside display a more self-confident and authoritative swagger. Source: {1} Slarek.


[2] Waiting to be interviewed


I : “The Two clocks show different times. Both wrong , of course. This one here is too slow. The other, as if it showed the perpetuity of defenselessness. We relate to it as twigs to the rain: we cannot defend ourselves.”

P: ” Twigs and rain….? You’re a great poet, I tell you.

[3] Interview with Captain. Captain’s speech:

“How did this happen. Don’t call your lives a tragedy. Be modest about it, not a tragedy  at all…..not that human life was so highly valued….keeping order appears to be the business of the authorities. But it’s the business of all. Order. Freedom, however, is nothing human. It’s something divine, for which……our lives are too short for us to know it properly. If you’re searching for a link, think of Pericles…..order and freedom are linked by passion. We have to believe in both, we suffer from both. Both from order and freedom. But human life is meaningful, rich, beautiful and filthy. It links everything. It mistreats freedom only….wasting  it, as if it were junk. People don’t like freedom, they are afraid of it. The strange thing is there is nothing to fear about freedom…order on the other hand, can often be frightening.

I must call your attention to certain points. In actual fact you… have no choice but to collaborate. if you really, respect the law, then I’m just a little ahead of you in this.  Practically you have…offered it.

[4]  Cafe in town. That sound. Irimiás asks what it is.  He gets angry. Threatens to blow everyone up.  The pair leave.  In the corner drinking, heavily bearded man in leather jacket and peaked cap.

[5]  I/P walk in rain in countryside. Discuss villagers. In the background horse and cart crosses the road left to right towards woods on horizon.

{= Chapter 3.  May be showing The Conductor on his cart going to the woods where he finds Doc, which happens at the end of Chapter 3.}

Teenager meets pair. Updates what’s been happening in village.

[6]  Three enter pub.

Final narration [over static side-shot of rain/lit entrance to pub ]:

In the east the sky clears fast like a memory. At dawn, it leans all red on the wavering horizon. As the morning beggar trudges up the back steps to the church, the sun rises to give life to the shadow and to separate earth from sky, man and animal from the disturbing, confused unity in which they became inextricably entwined. He saw the fleeing night on the other side, its terrifying elements in turn diving on the western horizon, like a desperate, defeated, confused army.

3.  To Know Something

Binocular shaped shot. View of Futaki looking out of pulling curtain window {= Chapter 1}.  Pan to water trough, tap running,chicken, make-shift tent shape, (like this)  dog, scap outside house, doorway, roof, dog eating scraps, dripping tap.

Man sitting, pouring drink. Drinks. Drag of cigarette smoking  in ashtray. Opens draw. Opens exercise book. Writes and speaks what he writes:

“Futaki…it seems…is afraid of something. Early….startled….he was looking …out…the window. Futaki is terrified….he’s afraid of death.”

Smiles. Says:

“They kicked off anyway. You too, Futaki, you’ll kick off.”

Dog drinking from puddle seen through window. Cigarette smoke rising between camera and window.

Man draws picture of what he sees through window: two houses; electric posts and wires.

From a shelf of  flat-stacked folders, chooses one folder containing exercise books, sits at desk in front of window. Compares three drawings of same scene.  Date on one older drawing: XI 3 – 6.

Sees man leaving right hand house who stands outside peeing. Second man leaves house. Hides against wall of house opposite. First man re-enters house. Second man knocks on door and enters.

[= externals of Futaki/Schmidt in chapter 1: The News is They are Coming]

Records event while speaking words. While writing, another man walks past window. Does not notice, does not record. Finishes with:

“It has started….to rain….It won’t….stop…. till…spring.

Man drinking. Reads aloud from a reference/text book.

“It is fascinating to see….the erosion caused by water and wind at the edge of the Ponticum, when the sea on The Great Plain had receded. It looks like a shallow lake, like Lake Balaton does now.”

Mrs. Kráner brings his food. Calls him doctor. Tells him she can’t do it any more. Leaves the key.

Doctor collapses and wakes. Inject himself. Recovers. Diabetes.

Goes to workshop/barn carrying empty spirit flagon. Two older girls in the upper floor who appear to be prostituting.  Ask Doc if he wants sex. He’s availed himself before…. Declines. Collects new flagon at their feet.

Exterior. Doctor walking in rain towards lighted building.  Stumbles and falls over.

Cut to lit front of pub.


Young girl [ in background looking into window of pub = Chapter 5] runs from alley along side of building. Tugs doctor’s arm.

“Doctor. Doctor.”

“What are you doing. let me go.”

Doc falls over. Girl runs into night. Doc. Calls girl back. She doesn’t return.

Doc in woods: In a back-lit misty background three silhouetted figures walking left to right. He doesn’t see them.


Morning.  Doc. has slept in woods with flagon.

Man (same man in cafe with leather jacket) takes Doc home on his horse-drawn cart.

Narration as cart moves to horizon:

My heart – he thought again and again. He longed to lie in a warm room, and be taken care of by sweet little nurses, sipping hot soup, then turn towards the wall. He felt light and easy and the conductor’s scolding echoed long in his ears: You shouldn’t have done it, Doctor. You shouldn’t have done it if…


4. The Spider’s Function [25 minute sequence]


Gannex Man talks to barman who is out of frame. Thunder and lightening plays through window left as Gannex sits on bench

Leather Jacket (the conductor) comes in. {Has picked up Doc. in the woods in the previous scene} Tells barman Irimiás and Petrina are coming.

Barman goes to store room to work up a head of steam about Irimiás and Petrina.

Mrs Schmidt enters. Barman and Mrs. Schmidt discuss Irimiás.

The conductor says they will be here before midnight.

Mrs. Schmidt says she can smell something. Bends down under the stable to sniff floor boards. Says, “It is the earth.”

5.  Comes Unstitched

Girl and brother bury coins in woods. Kids her it will grow.

Told to sit outside house by mother.


Girl pets, taunts, tortures and kills cat.


Finds coins in wood are gone (carrying dead cat under one arm). Goes to tell brother (carrying dead cat). He tells her he has taken it. Ignores cat. Finds rat poison in her pocket.

Night. Girl walking towards pub. Outside light on. Faint sound of accordion music.

Girl looking through window.


Adults dancing. Side view of girl looking into window. Doctor walking to pub door. Girl runs from window down alley to Doctor front of bar. (=  chapter 3. To Know Something ). Close up girl’s head and shoulders. Scared. Runs. Disappears into into dark. Cut. Short walking to camera.

Day. Long walk to camera. Dead cat under arm.

Ruined church. Takes rat poison. Lies down. Dies with dead cat under arm.



Yes, she said to herself softly. The angels see this and understand. She felt serene and the trees, the road, the rain, and the night all breathed tranquility. Everything that happens is good, she thought. Everything was, eventually, simple.

She recalled the previous day and, smiling, she realized how things are connected. She felt that these events aren’t connected by accident, but there’s an indescribably beautiful meaning bridging them. And she knew she wasn’t alone for all things and people, her father upstairs, her mother, her brothers, the doctor, the cat, these acacias, this muddy road, this sky, this night down here depend on her, just as she herself depends on everything.

She had no reason to be worried. She knew well that her angels had set out for her.

6. The Spiders Function II (The devil’s nipples, Satantango)


Voice as yet unidentified:

I was just plodding and plodding, just plodding along. The Steigerwald kids and Hochan, the butcher, the girls, they jumped when like grasshoppers when Irimias hugged me and asked “How’s it going, Keleman?” and bought a round and told me everything and they were drinking rum and liquor, even then I was plodding and plodding and plodding along.

They’ll be here. They’ll be in the yard. They’ll be here. The Toth kid, Irimias and Petrina, and they’ve been to the Steigerwalds. And as I was plodding along it became clear. They are leaving for the yard, then I knew everything.

Irimias and Petrina are  coming towards the yard. I met Hochan, the butcher and bumped into the Toth kid. And as I was plodding along, for I had to pod, and saw them by the road, revelation…which way…why…where to…and the plodding, the why the where to and the which way, the Toth kid, the Steigerwald kids. Irimias and Petrina and the gunpowder at the Steigerwald’s. And the Steigerwald kids talking of gunpowder, and me plodding and plodding…And the Steigerwald kids were talking of gunpowder. And the Steigerwald kids…But the Toth kid he was there in the Weighbridge.

[At the bar – Put some soda in it.

– I’ve already put some in.]

And the Steigerwald kids…

[ A bottle of wine (someone asks the barman)]

Gunpowder’s not gunpowder. They were talking about gunpowder.

[ Careful it doesn’t go to your head. (barman)]

– No gun-powder, gunpowder.

I was plodding, plodding along…Gun-powder’s not gun-powder!  Gun-powder’s not gunpowder! Gun-powder! It’s no gun-powder! He hugged me…the waitresses jumped like grasshoppers…They were drinking rum and liquor.

Mrs. Schmidt: I shouldn’t have any more for it goes all to my head. You’re offering it so invitingly.

Schmidt: Just goes to your head! You’re pissed to the eyeballs.

Kel: As you plod along you learn everything.

Sch. to Kut.: Don’t give her another! Can’t you see the state of her!

Kut: I shouldn’t drink. When I do I keep thinking of coffins.

Kel: The Toth kid, the Steigerwalds and Irimias hugged me, the girls jumped like grasshoppers, and bought a round, drinking rum and liquer…and he told me everything and I’m plodding and plodding…plodding , plodding, and plodding along….but there’s a huge difference between plodding and plodding. I knew exactly when I saw them at the junction, why, how which way, why and how…I’m plodding, plodding, and how am I plodding? How am I plodding? The gunpowder, the Steigerwalds, the Toth kid…the whole street was talking, that they’re hiding gun-powder. Why did they do this? And why are they coming here?  I know why they’re coming because I had a revelation…

(Woman, off frame) This heat is unbearable. Janos, please do something.

Woolly Hat at bar to woman off screen: You don’t begrudge the coal?

Kel: He’s coming at the road junction. I know exactly why. Why,why and why they’re coming and why they’re coming.

Man not Schmidt puts hands unto Mrs. Schmidt’s blouse from behind: It’s nice and warm in here….

Mrs. Schmit: You let him dickhead?

Sch: What the hell you want? There’s some at least for the others.

Kel: (off screen): For I was plodding and plodding along…..They’re coming and coming…They stop but they’re coming!

Barman:  This is no whore-house.

Sch: What then?

Kel:….coming and coming. They stop but they are coming!

W H to barman: Let’s go to the mill.

{= two older girls chapter 3}

Kel: They get here. In some minutes.

Wife of WM : Where the hell are you going?

WH: Nowhere, honey-pot, nowhere.

Mrs. WH: I’ll show you who’s honey-pot, just you wait and get sober.

WH: Nothing, nothing.

Kel (to WH):  They’re coming  for I saw them by the road. At the junction.

Mrs WH (at bar):  Give me a shot.

Kel (still towards WH):   The Steigerwald kids talked about powder. Irimias and Petrina are coming towards the yard. Gunpowder, Steigerwald…and they’re coming towards the yard. They’re here in a short while. We were plodding along…

Mrs. WH [over Kel’s repetitions]  (to barman) : My man’s a good man…but the alcohol, you know. He can be a blessed good man if he wants to be. He’s a hard worker. You know that. He can do the work of two. Only this tiny mistake, that he has. Who doesn’t have one? Who?

Keleman still directing his repetitions at WH,  who is not listening or looking at Kel, while Mrs WH is at the bar:  They’re coming, plodding. Irimias and Petrina..

Someone shouts off-screen (Kel and WM look toward door (= to camera) : Someone’s coming. Everyone in the bar looks to door (= to camera).

Cut to door and handle opening. It is the girl’s mother (all this conversation has Kel’s voice in the background repeating)

Mother : Have you seen my daughter?

Bar: which one?

Mother: The little one. Estike.

Bar: She hasn’t been here.

Kel [off] : At the weighbridge.

Mother: You know what happened. A Little trouble with the Halics. [Smiles, wanly] Now he doesn’t even say hello, the shithead.

Kel [off]: I saw them by the road. Revelation….which way, why, where to…and the plodding, and the why and the where to, the which way…

Mother: I slept all day. I wake up in the evening: no one there. The house is empty. No Mari, no Juli, no Sanyika.

Kel [off]: And plodding, plodding, and plodding…The Steigerwald kids were talking about gunpowder.

Mother: But that’s alright, the little one wandered away somewhere. If she comes back she”ll get it.

Bar: She’ll come back. She’s not the wandering type.

Mother: She’s really not.

Kel [off]: …the gunpowder’s no gun-powder…

Mother : Wandering in this rain all night long…no wonder I must stay in bed for days.

kel [off]: The waitresses jumped like grasshoppers. They were drinking rum and liquor…

Mother: That’s good for my stomach.

[ Kel [off]:  plodding and plodding …]

Bar: Do you want coffee?

Mother: Why? I’d be tossing and turning all night long. Then what for? Nothing.

Kel [ off]:  In a little while I was plodding and plodding….The Toth kid, the Steigerwalds…and Irimias hugged me….the girls jumped like grasshoppers…he bought us a round, they had rum and liquor. He told me everything and I’m plodding…

Mother: Well, good night. If you happen to see them, tell them to hit the road home. I can’t be wandering around all night long.

Bar: Here’s the bill.

Kel [off]: why, how, which way, why and how….plodding and plodding. And how am I plodding? The gunpowder, Hochan, the butcher, Steigerwald, Toth…Everybody was talking about the Steigerwald kids hiding gunpowder.Why? And why are Irimias and Petrina coming towards the yard? I know why they’re coming. because I had a revelation. A revelation. I know why they’re coming because I had a revelation.They’re coming at the junction. I know exactly why. They stop but they’re coming.

[3] Futaki outside in rain being sick. Pig eating in the rain by the door. Barman stands outside in doorway in rain. Brings Fut inside.

[4] Barman to Fut: Futaki, that stupid ass rolls in the mud like a pig, then he goes out in the rain like a sheep that has gone astray. You’re out of your mind? You know you’re not meant to get wrecked in here? And without eating too? Wash your face.

Bar: milk chocolate or cheese rolls.

K: Give me two cheese rolls.

Barman and K. eat in back on bed. Barman rants about spiders covering everything with cobwebs.. At one point he says; “That damn Swabian did me in….nothing comes of nothing…

{ Irimias a Swabian? Who are the Steigerwalds?}

Kut:   Kut’s remarks and barman rant about Irimias drinking at his bar for a fortnight before disappearing and now coming back to take his money.

[5]  Tango dance sequence. At the end Halics the ex-teacher asks Mrs. Schmidt for a tango.

End narration:

And for the tender sound of an accordion the spiders in the pub launched their last attack. They sewed loose webs on top of the glasses, the cups, the ashtrays, around the legs of the tables and the chairs. Then they bound them together with secret threads so that in their hidden corners they notice every little move and every little stir until this almost invisible web is not damaged.

They sewed a web on the sleepers faces, their feet, their hands. The hurried back to their hiding-place, waiting for an ethereal thread to move to start it all again.


7.   Irimias Gives a Speech

(Girl) Estike’s funeral. Irimias speech: part funeral oration/ part threat.  They hand over their money.

8.   Perspective from the Front

[1] Estike’s coffin loaded on 4×4 by bar owner.

[2] Irimias wakes after sleeping with Mrs. Schmidt.

[3] Irimias’ farewell speech to group.

[4] Group smash furniture and leave [ in same direction as cows in first shot]


The wind is blowing the clouds, behind the sky is burning, Give me, my dear, your little hand, God knows if I’ll see you again; whether I’ll close you in my arms, whether I’ll kiss you, dear? God only knows the day the battery is leaving. Whether I’ll close you…

[5] Head and shoulder Futaki walking to camera heavy rain. [Song still heard in background…]

You’re lovely, you’re fair, Hungary…

[6] Pulling trolleys  along made up road away from camera. Noise of trolley wheels almost overpowering dialogue.

Stop at a monument. Share a bottle of spirit or water.  Gannex Man is called  Lajos by wife.

[7] Arrive at manor house at dusk.

[8] Inside manor by lamplight.


One owl hoot off screen.

[9] Manor house. No dialogue. Panning, swirling camera [accordion music] examines faces of group. Camera circles Mrs. Schmidt’s head.

Zoom in on owl in fireplace.

[10] Sleeping group to accordion.

Narration over shot:

Halics was pursued by a hunchback with a glass eye. And after all sorts of trials he ran into the river, but he’s started to lose heart, every tike he came up for air the little man hit his head with a long stick. And each time he shouted, “Now you’ll get it.”

The schoolmaster persuaded a man wearing an old suit to go with him somewhere he knows;  the man agreed, like someone who can’t say no. He could hardly control himself and when they turned into a deserted park, he even pushed him to reach a bench surrounded by bushes. He made the man lie down and he jumped on him, kissed him on the neck, but in seconds some doctors appeared on the walk dressed in white; embarrassed, he waved that he was going  but he started to reproach the confused little man for, by then, he seemed to hate his guts.

The ground trembled under Schmidt’s feet. As if he were walking on the moors. He climbed up into a tree, but he felt, that’s started to shrink too. He was lying on the bed and tried to get the nightgown off his wife. But she started to yell, he jumped after her, the nightgown was torn. She laughed, and the enormous nipples on her breasts were like two beautiful roses.

Mrs Halics was washing Mrs Schmidt’s back;  the rosary on the rim of the tub slipped into the water like a snake. Mrs Schmidt said she had enough, her skin was burning from the rubbing but Mrs Halics pushed her back into the bath and went on scrubbing her back; she said she was afraid that Mrs Schmidt wouldn’t be satisfied.

Mrs Kraner heard a noise from outside but she didn’t knew what it could be. She put on a fur coat and left for the engine-shed. She had almost reached  the road when she had a bad feeling. She turned and saw their house was on fire.

“The chopped wood. Christ, I left the chopped wood out,” she screamed and ran back. Kraner was sitting at the table, calmly eating.

“Joska, are you crazy? The house is on fire!”

But Kraner didn’t move.

Mrs. Schmidt was a bird, flying over the clouds, happy. She saw that someone down there was waving at her. She came down a bit and heard Schmidt shouting.

“Why didn’t you cook anything, you bitch! Come down here.”

But she flew over him and chattered: tomorrow. You won’t starve till then. She felt the warmth of the sun on her back, she came down a bit. She wanted to snatch a bug.

Futaki’s shoulders were beaten with an iron bar. he couldn’t move, he was tied to a tree. He stretched out and felt the rope loosen. He looked at his shoulders and saw a long wound; he turned his head, he couldn’t stand seeing it. He was sitting on an excavator, the grab was scooping out some earth. A man came up to him and said,

“Hurry up, I won’t give you any more petrol whatever you say.”

But it was no use scooping for the earth kept falling back. He tried again but failed.. Then he cried…He was sitting at the window of the engine-shed and didn’t know whether it was daybreak or evening, it just didn’t end; he was sitting not knowing the time of day, nothing was changed outside,  morning didn’t come, night didn’t fall, day was beginning to break or night was beginning to fall.

9.   Go to Heaven? Have Nightmares?

[1] Irimias departure speech on steps of pub seen from behind the group. {= Ch.7} Camera pulls back. Group moves off. Same swearing at barman.

[2] I/P/Sanyi (girl’s older brother) walk to horizon discussing whether to go through with plan or get away.

[3] Three walk through woods.

[4] Irimias close up with deep sound heard first at cow shot.


[5]  Irimias kneels as mist passes through ruin {where girl killed herself}. Walk off in same shot. Mist disperses. Gets up.All three walk on on same shot.

[6]  Empty Town square. 10-15 horses appear, run around central monument. Camera pulls back to reveal backs of all three in close-up. Petrina: “The horse got away from the abattoir again.”

Three walk away down road horses have come from. A few of the horses mill around monument several times.

[7]  Steigerwald’s bar. Irimias dictates notes to Petrina. Sanyi sent to find Peyer. Talk to him about explosives.  I/P sleep.

10.  Perspective From the Rear

Group at the manor.  Irimias turns up.  Tells them the plans for the project have to be postponed. They are to split up.  Driven to town, where final ‘instructions’ are issued by Irimias. Kutaki says he’ll go his own way. Irimias returns some money, so he can eat every day.

11.  Just Trouble and Work

I/P/S litter-strewn walk. Policemen tailor Irimias’s report on the group.

12.  No way Out

Doc writes.

During the thirteen days I spent in hospital…Mrs Kraner didn’t turn up….again….everything is…like I’d left it. Neither of them leave the house. They must be…lying on their beds, snoring…or staring at the ceiling. They haven’t a clue…that it is this dull inertia…that leaves them…at the mercy …what they most fear.

Sound of bells in the distance.

A cosmic wirtschaft*. My hearing…is getting worse.

* business

Sound of bells. Looks at window. Puts on coat. Goes out.  Cut. Walks toward camera.  Pan across wet meadow. Flat horizon. Sound of bells rises. Cut to bell tower. Walks to tower. Sound of  light bell.

Voice from tower:

The Turks are coming! The Turks are coming! [repeated endlessly]

Enters tower. Man banging metal bar/gas cylinder.  Repeating chant. Sound of tinkling bell. Sound of deep bell rising up over it.


Doc walks along road away from tower. (SEE note. 6. Bells) Silence. Camera moves away leaving him walking. Smaller and smaller figure.

Back in room. Speaks.

I’ve mistaken the bells of the sky for the sound of the knell.

Boards up window. Blackness.

Doc’s voice pacing his voice to his writing:

One morning…at the end of October….not long before…the first drops…of the insufferably long …autumn rains….fell…on the parched…sodic ground…on the western side of the yard…for…the stinking bog….to make the tracks…until the frosts…impassable…and the town cut off…Futaki was woken…by the sound of the bells. Closest…eight kilometers to the south-west…on the Hochmeiss* field…was a solitary chapel…but not only no bell there…even its tower collapsed….during the war…

* that looks pretty German to me!



A Place in the Pantheon Jonathan Rosenbaum

The story line in Satantango— brilliant, diabolical, sarcastic–gradually unravels the dreams, machinations, and betrayals of a failed farm collective over a few rainy fall days, two of them rendered more than once, from the perspectives of different characters. But the plot operates almost independently of the moral and experiential weight given each shot: Tarr’s camera obliges us to share so much time as well as space with the grubby characters that we can’t help but become deeply implicated in their lives and maneuverings.

Other succinct summaries

The Spiders’ Webs (on Bela Tarr’s Satantango) Green Integer blog and Bright Lights Film Journal

A Longer summary with comments

The Spiders’ Webs (on Bela Tarr’s Satantango)

Two reviews by dialogue

Dan and Ben go barmy at Cinemania (My title)

A compilation of emails between  Dan Jardine and Ben Livant – two enthusiasts debate Tarr, Tarkovsky, etc, fresh from viewing Satantango

Sean and Padric wax  lyrical at blog Reviews from the Couch


Take a sentence here, a phrase there, cut and paste a super-view.  (Or, Many Minds Make Film Understood)

  • Many of these reviews are quite old and did not have the benefit of frame-by-frame using the DVD. When I watched the YouTube extracts way back, pause and replay made it possible for me to examine how these shots were made. Clearly, anyone coming to long takes for the first time, will want to think about how the content is delivered by Tarr compared with how it might be presented though cutting.

I do not agree this sort of film has to be seen in a darkened auditorium.  There is something to be said for being able to stop watching for a moment when things get tough or re-wind to take in what has been seen. I have watched it on TV and PC. The software I use has a mouse-wheel  5 second forward and rewind facility, which has proved invaluable.

  • There are many links to reviews of Sátántangó in the first Bela Tarr post, so some of them might overlap with the collection here.

The World According to Bela Tarr By András Bálint Kovács in KinoKultura

Essay on whole oeuvre.

Three posts from Waggish:

Bela Tarr: Satantango

Bela Tarr: Satantango [2]

Bela Tarr: Satantango [3]

He refers to

Sátántangó: And then there was Darkness

By Donato Totaro

Satantango (Bela Tarr) 1994 Jeremy Heilman

Lateral Sculpture: Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó Ryland Walker Knight in blog The house next door.  Starts by comparing Tarkovsky and Tarr.

Satantango (Hungary, 1994, Bela Tarr)

Extremely long and discursive post in Cinemania. 10 stills.

Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity: Sátántangó

Sátántangó (Satan’s Tango  /  Hungary  /  1994)    Rumsey Taylow

TANGO marathon David Borwell

Shall We Satantango? Cullen Gallagher in The L Magazine:

Tarr’s extended long takes (many lasting several minutes) invoke an almost out-of-body experience in the viewer, as real-time blends with Tarr-time and the minutes on-screen encapsulate something both intimately specific and profoundly universal. Time has rarely been used more wisely in cinema than in Satantango, which is, along with Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), one of the most resolute cases against wearing wristwatches during a movie.

Nine Minutes of Cows blog Spectacular Attractions

9 stills.

Satantango DVD review by John Adams. Thinks it’s about time and texture.

Satan’s tango Richard Warburton in a Warwick University blog, True Contradictions.

On DVD: “Satantango,” “Eagle Shooting Heroes” reviews two films.

Dancing in the dark with Satantango Kathie Smith

Satantango (1994) Darren Hughes, at blog Long pauses….

Satantango (1994) A Film by Bela Tarr Film blog “are the hills going to march off” (Carson Lund)

Bela Tarr’s Slow Burn Ed Salter, The Village Voice.

Opening Shots: “Satantango” (Bela Tarr, 1994)

Blog Out 1: Film from the Inside Out

On Sátántangó Initial thoughts blog:  Drifting / David Lowery

Sátántangó (Satan’s Tango) – Béla Tarr by Srikanth Srinivasan:

….in these shots, you see a very ordinary picture, say of bar-room dance or a group of cows grazing. As the length of the shot increases you’ll feel a bit edgy, waiting for a cut. When the shot further prolongs to unimagined lengths, you’ll start noticing finer details in the images that you failed to pay heed to in the previous minutes. You’ll gather a lot from the still life of the shot and from objects and events that appeared to be banal till now. And as you slowly get enthralled by these tableau-like images, Tarr cuts to the next, leaving you craving for a longer shot! In a way, each cut seems like a turning point in the seemingly simple plot.

The Spiders’ Webs (on Bela Tarr’s Satantango)
Green Integer Blog
Contemporary Obscurity: Satantango Mike Dawson

Béla Tarr’s bedeviled magnum opus Michael Garberich
Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity: Sátántangó

David McDougall Chained to the Cinematique.

The long take extends time. Each shot spends so much time observing a character that it becomes a sort of presentation without judgment. The experience of watching each shot is meditative; as a result, the viewer spends most of the film in his/her own head. For me, a typical experience of watching a single shot in the film might go like this: I identify the action and the character. I process how it relates to what I’ve seen. Then I get an idea of what it means. I then have time to contradict my thoughts and construct an alternate – or opposite – meaning. I then am struck with the weight of time, and the length of an action as it occurs. This time then forces me to be aware of the moment presented as a component of life, an event that exists but then fades away (both on screen, and for me). I then think about the limitations of time, and about my impending death. I then return to the scene and feel empathy for the characters even as they commit morally questionable acts. Finally, I’m left watching them, seeing them as they are: striving, flawed, human.

Rain Man by Michael Atkinson

…Sátántangó is a vast lake you explore for its endless depth, not a narrative river you ride from plot point A to point Z.

…it’s an epic trance state, a massive portrait of a withered universe.

Within this fraught structure, Sátántangó wanders, dallies, and watches, exhaustively, as the individuals worry and doomsay their way into one dead end after another (alcoholic ruin, cruelty, suicide, thievery, sodden despair), a plethora of scheming, paranoid human beasts playing out their final act in a godless world.

Are you sitting comfortably?

The slow, oblique existential film is making a comeback. Jonathan Romney couldn’t be happier

By Michael Atkinson {GoogleBook} pp. 73-78

Satantango: A Seven-Hour Contemplation of Boredom, Decay and Misery

Contemporary Obscurity: Satantango
Mike Dawson in Left Field Cinema

Sátántangó (1994, Béla Tarr)
Cathartic Pictures Film Blog


Martin Drouot. This is an automatic translation from the French, so make allowances.

Satantango: A film by Bela Tarr

Another French view from Pierre Grise Distribution: note how it is possible to re-adjust the translation by running the mouse over these translated texts.


Having watched the film at least three times including re-winding, I am slowly coming to come to the conclusion that Tarr made Satantango primarily for  his own satisfaction and pleasure, and his friends, but is happy for anyone else to watch it and make what they will of it.

This might also explain why he is so tetchy about explaining the film or how he made it. Doing so in any detail would spoil his own immersion in the film, what went into making it, and the journey he, as a person, went on in the process.

1. Structure.

A review by Tim Wilkinson, The devil has all the good tunes, of the book on which the film was based, Satantango by László Krasznahorkai, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Bela Tarr, explains the novel substantially, including the structure, based around the tango steps. Six out, six back, represented by the 12 chapters of the book and the film.

A simple way to show  how the film works it to draw a horse-shoe, open end at the bottom,  arrange 12 nodes, chapters 1 and 12 at the ends, and then use arrows to link each node. Each to his own. I chose  to concentrate first  on chronology/overlaps, linking any one scene to even with the slightest re-occurrence in another. For example, I/R/S appear fleetingly at the end of the doc’s Chapter 3. Know Something.

2. Book and film.

[1] As soon as I finished reading Wilkinson, I wondered if the book was more effective than the film. Or, rather if the film lived up to the book. There is no way of telling without having read it, but once I got the idea the book might have been hard to translate into film, it wouldn’t go away.

There are plenty of others that fall into this category. My favourite {unfilmable/hard-to-film} is Mann’s The Magic Mountain.  Reading  the quotes from the Krasznahorkai’s book which turn into narrative voice-over in the film, I got the feeling that the length of Tarr’s film was a reflection of  his desire to capture  the ‘interior’ of the book:  the thoughts and feelings of the characters which are rarely effectively translated into film. Standard montage films can’t achieve this effect. If you want to cut, cut, how to show long stretches of text which contain the mental activity?  Tarr gives a demonstration of how it is possible with the doctor writing his reports. It’s as if he started with the doctor and had to make the film 7 hours long to accommodate the rest without Doc looking too bloated!

[2] Tarr and book author Krasznahorkai co-wrote the screenplay. Tarr apparently saw the book before it was published in 1985.

László Krasznahorkai Portrait

László Krasznahorkai was born in 1954, in the town of Gyula in the east of Hungary, close to the Romanian border.(source : almost and island ).

The first three chapters of László Krasznahorkai‘s Satantango, translated by George Szirtes, are available online which are useful to partially see how it has been possible to make the book into film. Fun to see which parts have been left out and major differences.

Book chapters:

I. The News of their Coming

II. We are Resurrected

III. To Know Something

HTML version (all three chapters)

One glaring difference between book and film is ‘the summons’. {Chapter 2. Rise from the Dead.}  The description of the interaction between Irimias, Petrina and the Captain in the book is radically different from the film. (Unless there is more of this in the book elsewhere…). In the book he swears and bullies them, forces them to become informers, and sends them packing. In the film he breaks into a measured speech, trying to quote Pericles on freedom and order, which is partially transcribed in my ‘script’.

Chapter III of the book begins:

At the end of the Palaeozoic era the whole of Central Europe begins to sink. Naturally, our Hungarian homeland is part of this process. In the new geological circumstances the hill masses of the palaeozoic era sink ever lower until they have reached rock bottom at which point the sedimental sea inundates and covers them. As the sinking continues the territory of Hungary becomes the north-western basin of that part of the sea that covers Southern Europe. The sea continues to dominate the region right through the mesozoic era.

In the film Doc reads from a reference book:

“It is fascinating to see….the erosion caused by water and wind at the edge of the Ponticum, when the sea on the Great Plain had receded. It looks like a shallow lake, like Lake Balaton does now.”

Lake  Balaton.

Map of Hungary showing position of Balaton.

{SEE  Note 13. Locations.}

3. Repetition (and the long take)

[1] I have transcribed the whole dialogue from Chapter 6 of the film to see what it might have looked like on paper at the start. One suspects that such a post-transcript is not identical to the working script. And how would the book read?

Having watched the scene you can laugh more at the text.  (Bela Tarr Notes from Adrian Chan’s blog The Listening Ear, has something to say on repetition: “…the slow, repetitive passages invite the viewer to think about the principles of repetition.”

On paper, the bare dialogue including The Conductor’s ‘plodding, plodding’ loop looks like  reading a Beckett play. On film, the others pay no attention to what he is saying, which I have not fully indicated in my ‘script’. Not one person turns to listen to what he has to say. On the one occasion when he directs his speech to someone that person looks towards him but does not respond. No one tells him to shut up.

Although this may not be what Tarr intended, a long think about this scene suggests, to me, perhaps the plodding, plodding, plodding, though expressed orally – received aurally – can represent what is going on in the heads of the people in the pub. So, if you like, it is as if Keleman has said this only once (or twice!)  and the rest is the dread, the keywords, the re-formulations running through the minds of the people in the room, who at the same time are  pretending it doesn’t bother them. They can’t, in any case, let on what they think of the news of Irimias’s possible return because they each have their own agendas which they do not wish to disclose to others.  Have the two at once – the repetitions and the sense that it is also teeming through the heads of the otherwise inscrutable – and pow!

The repetitions, watched and listened to, are irritating, but one can see something is going on despite the irritation, if one asks why he says it so often, why the others do not respond, what relation it has to the next, long dance shot, remembering at the same time that in the other pub scene everyone stops and looks to the door – they expect it to be Irimias but it is only the girl’s mother.


Partisans in the persistent and hopeless fight for human dignity: Sátántangó

argues, “The long take extends time.”  He constructs a scenario for how he might watch a long take:

….a typical experience of watching a single shot in the film might go like this: I identify the action and the character. I process how it relates to what I’ve seen. Then I get an idea of what it “means.” I then have time to contradict my thoughts and construct an alternate – or opposite – meaning. I then am struck with the weight of time, and the length of an action as it occurs. This time then forces me to be aware of the moment presented as a component of life, an event that exists but then fades away (both on screen, and for me). I then think about the limitations of time, and about my impending death. I then return to the scene and feel empathy for the characters even as they commit morally questionable acts. Finally, I’m left watching them, seeing them as they are: striving, flawed, human.

Note 10. Mechanical time, has been put separately. The term came from reading Dan and Ben.

4.  The cow shot.

A set up shot, yet it is also documentary footage.  Some comments: Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film).

The introductory cow shot could be seen as documentary because the cows actions are uncontrollable, despite the mis-en-scene being planned and the structure introduced by the use of a long track.  An example of the ad hoc element in filming is when the boldest cow comes quite close to the camera (it can’t be a long lens because of the wide-angle of the shot) and then moves to the right. The camera turns leftwards, as if an instant decision has been made to exclude the cow it is at that point half in / half out of shot) for a more tidy frame – it is disrupting the mid and background activity of the other cows. In the end the cow is left half in the frame because to move the camera too far to the right will begin to remove the centre of the herd from the centre background of the frame.

When The Conductor pushes the drunk doctor up onto his cart at the end of chapter 3. Know Something, there is a kerfuffle with a box being used to help him step up. This involves the actor first putting the box one way, then, when he  realises the doctor won’t be able to get up from that height, laying it side-on to make a higher step.

5. Cows and horses.

Cows at the beginning, and later a horses clatter on the cobble stones into the market square of the town where they Irimias and Petrina visit the authorities.

Cows and horses probably pinpoints the locale pretty accurately for a Hungarian.

I’m no expert, but  it does take long starting from wiki: Hungary to find such things as Puszta

For those saying the film is about the collapse of communism (said not to be because of when the book was written), I would suggest cows and horses suggest a longing for some past Hungary.  But other keywords suggest the very complicated history of Hungary: in other words whose  past Hungary?

6. German Names

Schmidt and Steigerwald – suggesting something about Hungary’s history. To Hungarian audiences many of these things will have a meaning the non-Hungarian audiences miss. I picked up on it after a few re-watchings of selected scenes. I tried to remember what I had seen and read about Hungary, particularly around the Second world war, but nothing specific came apart from it being part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Reading around, and noticing later in a one of the manor house shots, someone  says, “…damn Swabian …”.


In parts of the former Yugoslavia (i.e. Slovenia, Slavonija in Croatia, and Vojvodina in Serbia), the term Swab (locally Švab, from Шваб) is somewhat applied to all German peoples who lived in those regions until shortly after World War II, and many of their descendants; it is even occasionally used as a slang term to refer to all Germans as well as Austrians and Swiss German speaking people.

This seems to be a theme of the film. Though study Hungary’s history and it is apparent there are dozen of ethnic groups, and re-alignments of borders etc, so why the Swabians?

One line of thinking is the roll German Hungarians  played in The Second World  War.

Wiki: Danube Swabians

wiki: Swabian Turkey

wiki: Swabia

History of German Settlements in Southern Hungary by Susan Clarkson

{SEE note 8. Bells}

7.  Music/sound.

Mihály Vig, who plays Irimias, composes music for Tarr’s films and is in Hungarian band Balaton.

Watching the scene at the end of the film quite a few times revealed something about overlap in sound.  which echoes and helps to tie together some of the overlapping pov.

{SEE  last three paras. of note 8. Bells.}

{SEE   Bela Tarr’s Sound Images: Cinema of Proximity}

8. Bells

The mention of “The Turks are coming!” by the bell ringer suggests something to do with  Ottoman / Austro-Hungarian empire.

Blog Gladsome Morning is the only post reviewing Satantango I have so far found which  suggests the historical point.

There were waves of German immigration over the centuries {History of German Settlements in Southern Hungary}  The Germans seemed to suffer disproportionately at the hands of the invading Ottomans. {SEE note 6.}

Learning more about the location of the ruined mansion { SEE note 13.} it seemed quite clear that this part of Hungary which author of book came from, bordering on Romania, , was the bit that was overrun by the Turks centuries before.

In the final part of Chapter 12, as the doctor arrives at the bell tower, the sound changes from the deep drone, first heard in the cow shot, to the more tinkling sound of a smaller bell, and then to a more metallic sound, created by the ‘madman’ banging what almost looks like a suspended gas cylinder, as doc. enters the tower, and is seen to touch the ‘bell’.

As the camera lingers on the ‘madman’ (a fantasy sequences or real?) endlessly repeating his “Turks are coming! “, the deep drone reappears  under the sound of the more tinkly banging. Through a glassless window directly behind the ‘madman’s head in close-up, the horizon can be seen, and on it the vague outline of woods, or even what might be a building such as the ruin where the girl killed herself. By this stage, one suspects that every shot has a reference to another in it. It’s as if Tarr had designed this film with lines of sight from one shot to another in a chain.

In the next shot, as Doc. returns to the settlement – the bell tower receding to his left – both the banging of the ‘bell’ and the drone continues, but slowly, as he gets further away from the tower, the bell sound diminishes, leaving, just for a few moments only, the eerie drone, till in the end there is no sound at all, just Doc. waking on to a fade to black.

In the book:

I. The News of their Coming

One morning near the end of October, not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil on the western side of the plot (so that later the stinking yellow sea of mud might render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells. The closest possible source was a lonely chapel about four kilometres south-west on the old Hochmeiss estate but not only did that have no bell but the tower had collapsed during the war and it was too far to hear anything at that distance. And in any case, it was not of distant bells these ringing-booming triumphal sounds reminded him but something quite close (“ It was as if they came from the mill…”) swept along by the wind. He propped himself on his elbows on the pillow so as to look out of the mousehole-sized kitchen window that was partly misted up, towards the faint blue dawn sky but the field was still and silent bathed only in the ever fainter bell sound; and the only light to be seen was that percolating from the doctor’s window among the other houses set well apart on the far side, and that was only because its occupant had for years been unable to sleep in the dark. He held his breath because he did not want to lose a single stray note of the rapidly fading clangor in order to know the truth (“ You are bound to be asleep, Futaki…”) and in order to be assured of it he needed to hear every single sound, however isolated.

Doc in Chapter 12. :

A cosmic wirtschaft*. My hearing…is getting worse.

which seems to translate as business.

and soon after:

I’ve mistaken the bells of the sky for the sound of the knell.

9. The Doctor’s record

[1] Dan and Ben are not enamoured with it his scene.

[2] Ric Olson has done a marvelously titled little post called Binocular Aesthetic, in his blog Coosa Creek Cinema, including three ‘binocular stills” and at the end 4.20 mins. of the shot, ending with a cut to shot 2 of  the Doc.  in side view looking through his binocs.

For some reason when I played this shot to see where it ended, there was no sound. It looses a lot however, by not having the soundtrack. This fortuitous soundlessness in Olsen’s extract is a serious mini-essay on film sound.  For me, in silence, the shot seems just what it is, a filmic conceit: a camera movement that tells us it is what a man saw. Without the eerie booming bell sound, which creates such an emotional reaction, focusing the mind as much on the sound as the image — even working to suggest there is someone behind the view a silent version tends not to — it just looks like a complicated pan and tilt: no human eye moves so slowly over a set of objects. The word saccade comes to mind. If you had asked set of people to look at this camera trajectory from a diagram, and then perform it on the mise-en-scene, there would be an almost universal tendency to go back and forwards, to stop on particular items of interest for longer than others, and even to depart from the diagram at certain points.

What in fact happens is both a pre-ordained camera movement and additional  movements which are dictated by events as the shot is being filmed (as in many other shots, but particularly the cow intro).  For example, the dog is in the frame, and then moves out of it, so the camera locks on to it for a few seconds before letting it leave the frame, to concentrate on the water trough and tap which happens to behind the dog at the moment it exits right.

[3] Tarr needed a device to mirror the way the novel achieves this. {How did the novel do it, I wonder?  Was the description in the book like the shot in the film?}

Having him mumbling what he is writing down get’s round the necessity to have more narrative voice over. We don’t need to see what he is writing. We are shown he’s writing.  If the director chose to show us only once that this character was writing down his observations, what does he then shoot?  What is the point of the camera filming what the man sees if he is describing it? In reality, we get a bit of both which is what makes film so much fun for the people making them!

There are other ways of  packaging the information in these scenes. But they would require many cuts and might temporarily de-emphasise the man himself. (cf. Hitchcock’s, Rear Window)  The shots of what is going on from various angles would take the place of the explanation and exploration of the doctor in long takes.

On several occasions the camera records what the doctor sees (= we see it) through the window and then what the doctor records and says. This enables us to see how he interprets what he sees.

Overall, it may be saying something about film,  about how it can or cannot translate a book’s ability to do the milieu interior.  In the main, directors are always playing with and demonstrating what film can do. But then so do the authors of novels.

[4] There is something which is mentioned in several of the reviews listed above and by  Chris Robé in Sculpting through Movement:

While sitting at his desk and staring out his window at his neighbors’ houses, he pours out brandy in a glass. He then pours water into another glass. Into a third glass he mixes them and drinks.

When Futaki (Miklós Székely B.) runs from Mrs. Schmidt’s house (Éva Almássy Albert), he shuffles through his pile of notebooks, opening one and writing what he sees. He remains sitting, breathing heavily, every movement underlined by grunts. He repeats his drinking process until Mrs. Kraner (Irén Szajki) enters his house and informs him that she can no longer work for him. After she leaves, he shuffles through more notebooks and then writes down what transpired as well as his belief that something shifty is going on in the town. He repeats his drinking process.

Without any background information, we nonetheless learn that the Doctor parcels out his life through distinct routines. Nothing is left to chance. Even the unexpected moments must be reworked into habit by capturing them within his notebooks. It is a sad life that his drinking attempts to soften but only becomes yet another routine further burying him within his house, in his chair, underneath his belabored breaths.

If the doctors activity is closely observed, perhaps missed on a first viewing, he can be seen to be meticulous in where he places things.  For example, when the lady brings his lunch and places it on his desk, he angrily asked her to move it, then carefully reorganises his pencils. In the scene where he drains the last  few drops of brandy from the flagon, he uses a funnel from the cupboard at his feet, then puts it back in the cupboard.

He carefully records the goings on observed through his window, yet while writing down about Futaki’s activities, doesn’t notice The Man with the Glasses (and what looks much like Harold Wilson’s Gannex Coat) walk straight past his window right to left. But we see him. The camera sees him. We see Doc. does not see everything.

In a previous scene, Janos (Gannex Man) is see walking right to left in the background, which is past the doctors window, shot from outside the Schmidt’s house.

10. Mechanical time

Dan and Ben:

Bergson was so openly hostile to the mechanical measurement of time replacing what was for him our authentically human sense of duree

wiki: Duration (Bergson)

[1] There must be a simple way to say this for film. When a director gets two men to walk off into the horizon, and watches them continuously for the 5 minutes it takes to do, and then asks them to repeat it while he films it, he becomes aware of the difference between the two and fancies demonstrating it.

Film of course, asks the audience to fill in what is missing. Tarr asks us to imagine watching the two men disappearing over the horizon while watching his shot of it in real time. (As we watch we say, Yes, he is filming it in real-time, but at the same time we say, This is not real.  When we think of such things, we know that we would rarely watch anyone continuously for 3-4 minutes, in real life, as they walked away – except perhaps a much-loved one who we thought might never return!  Many of us have watched the train (and the person waving from the open window) get smaller and smaller, till it disappears round the bend.  Though we could be distracted – someone on the platform might get in the way – and perhaps come back to the scene in visual doses of our own choosing  (“Have they disappeared yet? No. Then I’ll look at something else till they do.”)

In film, we are directed, within a frame, to watch such a shot. We don’t have to, but the convention – the unwritten contract between film-maker and film-viewer – is that we do so. Anyone who makes such a long continuous shot knows some of the audience will watch without a break, while others will not. Some will watch intently, others will drift off into the examination of detail, others into personal memories.

[2] Does a director (or script writer if not the same) wonder what happens after you have left the cinema?  Of course he does.  He has come out of the dark into the light many, many times himself. He knows no two people will have seen the same film even though they have been in the same cinema at the same time. And will be delighting and annoying  each other with what they thought they did  and didn’t see as they walk down the theatre steps and into the street.

11. Narrative, chronology, p.o.v.

My first post on Sátántangó was based on a YouTube extract of the opening cow and the later tango scene. This seemed like a good exercise while waiting to get the DVD:  nothing but to concentrate on the scenes as film without worrying about the story which they formed a part of.

Watching the whole film on DVD, with these two scenes already in the pot, didn’t spoil the viewing, which is a demonstration of the way he has structured the film.

At one point, in the girl and the Doc. exterior night scenes, faint accordion music in the background — rain sheeting down, a paltry exterior light forming a weak glow over the entrance to the pub — was enough for me to re-imagine the drunken dancing in the pub seen in full in YouTube months before as I was watching this different perspective.  A strange, pleasing sensation that the two characters themselves at that point knew less than me. I knew what was going on in the pub in great detail having seen the full 12 minutes and Doc. didn’t know a thing! Not that I knew exactly what the drunken dance meant out of context in the YouTube extract.

In her scene, the girl moves to the window to watch the dancing. Doc. pays no attention to the sound of music in his scene, which also shows the girl in the background looking at the dancers before she runs to the doctor.  Doc does not see the girl at the window. But we do. Or might do.


By chapter 3, which starts with the doctor looking through his binoculars, we recognise we are reprising chapter 1. In the girl’s chapter (5) we see the Doc, already seen in 3, and are thrown back perhaps to Futaki in 1.  Doc. 3 presages tango dance at 6, through the sound of the accordion, but we do not get a view of the dance through the window till the girl looks in at 6.

Doc. drunk trudges outside near the pub. He falls down, gets up. A young girl approaches and calls him Doc. Scared of him, she then runs away. Doc falls down in the mud then gets up to call after her.

Chapter 5, from the p.o.v of the young girl, ends with two shots of the girl: one looking into the pub watching the adults dancing to accordion music, the other a static close up of her face framed by the misty window from inside the bar.

The girl’s scene starts much earlier in daylight outside her house. The doctors scene also starts earlier with him in his room. It is only as one watches the second scene, questions arise if both sccnes represent exactly the same block of time or overlap in some way.

Pub scenes in Chapters 4 and 6 are continuous, starting with Keleman entering in 4 , and ending with the dance in 6.

Knowing the pub tango scene and its looped accordion music  from the YouTube extract, something happened that was not meant to when I watched the DVD.  Though the bar dance had not happened yet in the film, having watched all twelve minutes of it in YouTube,  months before, I could visualise the whole scene from outside in the dark as I ‘stood behind’  the characters trudging about in the rain.

We do see what is happening inside the bar, when the girl goes to the window, but the action does not last as long as the full 12 minutes of the dancing shot from within the room.

Some bright spark in one online assessment  writes of cubism, which is a neat analogy. For this to work in film, we need persistence of memory. Whether one could be clever enough to claim Tarr is applying analytic rather than synthetic cubism, I cannot say.

12. Subtitles.

Tarr was reluctant, it seems, to bring Satantango out on DVD. I wonder what he thought about subtitles. Having watched the film, whole and part, it was only when ignoring the subtities many of the visual details were noticed. Thankfully there isn’t much dialogue, so it can be an eye-centric experience, with half an ear (= eye on the subtitles) on what is being said. Those shots where the words are important to grasp the story, for example, the Captain’s speech, the visuals can be almost be ignored. What can be learned from watching the captain’s face as he delivers his ‘speech’?

The ultimate for me – to be able to understand more of what Tarr was trying to achieve – would be a well-done English dubbed version, so that the non-Hungarian gets the full Hungarian experience through listening to what is being said. There are quite a few words which by themselves without anything else, flesh out a greater terrain than the film covers visually. {SEE: quite a few of the other notes.}

Many of those reviewing the film after a cinema viewing, claimed it was the only and best way to watch it, debating whether the DVD would do the job the director intended.  I have only watched it on DVD, and unlikely to get an opportunity to see it in a cinema.  An example of what you get with DVD that you might not catch otherwise is my description (real or fanciful?) of the final bell sequence in note 6.

13. Time, Location, Locations.

Tarr has said that he considers time and location to be characters in his films, on the same level of importance as his human actors.

According to Harry Tuttle, there were 10 separate locations. I’m a location freak, so if you have any detailed info about this, let me know. For example, did Tarr film in or near his home town, Pécs.

László Krasznahorkai was born in 1954, in the town of Gyula in the east of Hungary. This photo of the puszta comes from that page. Even more fun, from here, we get to this intriguing oat tower, at Mezőhegyes, which is SW of Gyula. Imagine that being used for the bell sequence.

I’m putting my money on locations around Gyula. This ruin at Póstelek, {2} {3}, about 5 miles NW of Gyula,  looks much like the  place where Estike kills herself:


The view in the film would be the back of the photos. When the girl is inside the building arches can be seen but these do not identify the building well from the outside.

This Hungarian map shows the position of the ruin at Postelek (The Gyula-Postelek Castle).  And there a clear aerial photograph of the mansion, which pretty much clinches it from the arrangement of trees and paths which can be correlated with several of the shots.

Gyula Pósteleki kastély

[2] Location as character.

Clearly this is true in Satantango. This is partly explained by the re-visiting of structures and objects.

The route the doctor walks from his house to replenish his brandy flagon is almost the reverse of the final tracking shot in the introductory cow scene.


February 6, 2009 - Posted by | Bela Tarr, film analysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques], Satantango | , , , ,


  1. […] that Pinter’s Proust was written filmically, unless a film is the length of Bela Tarr’s Satantango, it won’t truly reflect the book. The BBC radio adaptation is roughly 6 hours long and in […]

    Pingback by Little patch of yellow wall or a single asparagus? : Harold Pinter’s The Proust Screenplay « fear of death is intransitive | February 11, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hey, thanks for linking to our review/conversation. Ben and I appreciate the tip o’ the hat.

    And I dig your title for our chat. Barmy indeed.

    Comment by djardine2520 | August 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. […] FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2} […]

    Pingback by FILM The long take « cutting on the action | April 9, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] Guess he would hate Bela Tarr’s Satantango. Béla Tarr’s Long Takes (an education in film) FILM Satantango (Sátántangó) by Béla Tarr {2} Photography wiki: Roger Fenton N.B. mentions that Fenton’s equipment limited him to posed […]

    Pingback by PHOTOGRAPHY ESSAY ERROL MORRIS On Roger Fenton’s 2 Crimea War photographs titled ‘Valley of the Shadow of Death’ taken 0n 23 April 1855 « cutting on the action | March 7, 2012 | Reply

  5. Reblogged this on Helen West Heller and commented:
    part 2 of an interesting article on Satantango

    Comment by helen west heller | March 16, 2012 | Reply

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