Tag Archives: 1994

The Circle Closes: Béla Tarr’s Satantango

Bells echo from a tower that doesn’t exist. The bellowing and snorting of cattle reverberates from the inside of a factory. It starts with one of many dirty, consumerist livestock, as they begin to pour from the opened gates of the dilapidated, crumbling building like blood seeping from a wound. They mingle with the outside world in the way that same wound’s blood might wisp about and spread after dripping into a glass of milk. Moaning, searching, the cattle skitter about slowly but surely, some attempting to graze, some mounting one another in excitement. Around them is a barren, sodden environment of muddy, wet road. There doesn’t seem to be a blade of grass in sight. The piercing cold, grey skies have eliminated any and all greenery. The trees are bare, coated only in wet, freezing rain. The cattle continue to roam, further and further away, until finally they turn a corner and disappear. The circle closes. 

Satantango was shot in the anemic fields of Hortobágy directly after János Kádár, the longtime communist leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, had finally stepped down. Béla Tarr returned to his homeland to begin working on the film, which he had been planning for years prior. The quickly crumbling infrastructure of Eastern European communism sets the stage for an otherwise languid, slow-paced affair.

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This is a film, first and foremost, about time and its relation to humanity. Whether it’s about how time slowly chips away at us, or how we slowly chip away at it, I’m not sure, but Tarr meticulously pieces together this constricting, plodding experience with the confidence and expertise only a cynically depraved Hungarian of his stature can. Scenes play out in full, tinged with harsh, bleak environs, creating a completely realized atmosphere of existential disquietude. The camera is always lingering, always present, roaming about the lives of the villagers at the heart of the narrative, coercing the audience into a similar struggle of existence. We are constantly both moving and staying stagnant, all at the behest of our coercive god-like auteur. We end up much like the characters, facing an indifferent, harsh reality, merely trying to scrape out a meaningful existence amidst an ever-shifting matrix of influence.

Watching a movie at this length, a monolithic 432 minutes, both exhausts and exhilarates. It promotes a feeling of invincibility, as if you’ll never need to watch another movie again, or that you can watch literally any movie ever now… which is extra ironic, given the lack of invincibility embedded within the subtext. Either way, Béla Tarr has made me stronger.


Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.

STEPHEN HOPKINS’ BLOWN AWAY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Back in the summer of 1994, there were three big action films to hit the marketplace: Speed, True Lies, and sandwiched in between, was the underrated Blown Away, which suffered the worst box office fate of the bunch but still delivered more than enough thrills and excitement to qualify as an action-packed blast of unpretentious entertainment. This movie is so much fun in an old-school, traditional manner (it just FEELS, in a great way, like an MGM movie), shot with lots of style by director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2, The Ghost and the Darkness) and acted with intense ferocity by Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones, as a Boston bomb squad officer and a mad Irish bomber respectively. Jones is running wild on the streets of Boston, blowing up anything and everything he can find, all in an effort to exact revenge on his old friend Bridges, who both went through IRA/terrorist issues which are dealt with in black and white flashback. Bridges is the noble cop who always seems to know which wire to cut – the blue one or the red one. While the plotting is mostly predictable, the film knows exactly what it’s doing with its numerous action scenes, and it must be pointed out, that the film features the SINGLE GREATEST DONE-FOR-REAL EXPLOSION ever captured on film. There’s no debating this. I fucking LOVE movie explosions. I’ve made it a point to STUDY them throughout my life. This one is top-dog. When Jones’ old shipyard boat goes kablooey at the climax, you literally can’t believe what you’re watching and that the two fearless stuntmen weren’t killed or burned to death. The image has REAL camera shake, glass windows in downtown buildings were blown out, and total radio silence in and around Boston Harbor was kept for 10 miles so no interference could occur with the destruction of the balsa wood ship. Peter Levy’s cinematography is terrific all throughout, and the brisk editing keeps the pace moving fast. Kino has just released an excellent special edition Blu-ray of this extremely fun, throw-back type action thriller that was more old-fashioned than audiences may have been expecting. Hopkins provides a great, info-filled commentary, and the picture transfer is very crisp and clean, retaining that awesome, slick-and-gritty 90’s film stock look, with that final explosion looking all sorts of epic and awesome in full 2.35:1 widescreen (previous DVD releases were non-anamorphic). Alan Silvestri’s score is appropriately bombastic and thoroughly exciting. Forest Whitaker, Suzy Amis, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, John Finn, and Lloyd Bridges all offer memorable support. Cuba Gooding Jr. has literally 30 seconds of screen time in one scene. Jay Roach (Meet the Parents) got original story credit!

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