Tag Archives: Hungarian

SATANTANGO (1994)

Bela Tarr’s Satantango (1994) is a seven and half hour long, glacially paced, acerbic adaptation of László Krasznahorkai’s novel. It is the second of four films in which Tarr has collaborated with Krasznahraki as writer, beginning with Damnation (1988) and most recently The Turin Horse (2011).

Tarr is frequently and aptly compared to . Like Tarkovsky, Tarr’s films require intelligence and patience. At this length, Tarkovsky may seem hyperkinetic, particularly to Western viewers. Yet, patience reaps a rich spiritual reward. Indeed, Tarr may be the most spiritually intuitive filmmaker since Tarkvosky, Bresson, and Dreyer.

In certain ways Satantango is comparable to composer Morton Feldman’s six-hour string quartet. Dissonance, pauses, and silence, mixed with humor and desolation cast a shimmering, hypnotic spell. The monochromatic humor of Satantango lingers on in the consciousness, demanding viewer concentration. Despite, and because of, its challenges, it is best viewed in a single setting.

The opening is akin to a prolonged overture: a ten minute, continuous tracking shot of cows wandering aimlessly through a barren village, setting the bleak, avant tone. The film is broken down into twelve episodic movements: the twelve steps of a tango. Savage canines, unrelenting rain, wretched peasants and magnetic charlatans are the town’s muddy occupants. Never has mud seemed so simultaneously visceral and ethereal. Never has a tango been presented as so relentlessly static.

Still from Satantango (1994)In one of most unsettling moments in the entirety of cinema, a young girl (Eirka Bok) torments and poisons her cat (yes, it was staged) before she samples the poison herself. Architectural facades and soaked, dilapidated concrete slabs adorn the film like mildew from relics of Christmases past.

Much of Satantango is filmed in long, continuous takes in real-time. A five-minute tracking shot follows two characters besmirched with trash from a blowing wind. Tarr’s camera envelops seven sleeping characters while the narrator describes their dreams. The devil’s tango is “plodding, plodding, plodding” like a hysterical, whimsical apocalypse homing in on the dying breaths of Hungarian communism. Its denizens face their slide into oblivion with an inebriated stupor, moving like the overture’s lethargic herd. Tarr’s camera details “the logic of life” with gorgeous precision, memorializing the villagers’ moribund aimlessness. They will go down scheming, defiantly mocking western capitalism’s attention deficit disorder.

There is tension aplenty in the arrival of a resurrected messiah, and so the film is indeed as much about its duration as it is about narration. Thankfully, Tarr keeps his narrative structure diaphanous. Opacity would have rendered it lifeless. Everything is caught in Tarr’s courageously mundane odyssey: buzzing flies, raspy coughs, and repetitively ticking clocks are beautifully preserved in celluloid amber. The Jonah-like prophet (Mihaly Vig) proves to be as dubious a hope as the political systems Tarr so mercilessly parodies.

The final shot, of the doctor boarding up a window, methodically removing every vestige of light, is replete with multifarious meanings. Satantango has an innovative texture. It is experiential rather than narrative. It is also startlingly visionary and postmodern, reminding us that the medium of film is a relatively young one with boundless potential.

76. KONTROLL (2003)

“I had something in mind for most of the scenes and images in the film and almost without fail, people have interpreted those moments differently… What I’ve really learned in this process is that it doesn’t really matter what I think I’m doing, that’s the beauty of it really, that once it’s out and there are all these hundreds of other eyes trained on it, it becomes a conversation.”–Director Nimród Antal on symbolism in Kontroll

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal

FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Eszter Balla, Bence Mátyássy, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, György Cserhalmi

PLOT: Bulcsú, a Budapest metro transit cop, copes with eccentric passengers and incompetent coworkers as he pursues a veiled serial killer.  Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.  As the killings continue unabated, suspicion eventually turns toward Bulcsú himself.

Still from Kontroll (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Nimród Antal was born in Los Angeles (of Hungarian ancestry) and moved to Hungary to study filmmaking at the Hungarian Academy of Drama and Film. He made his first feature film, Kontroll, then returned to the U.S. to direct conventional Hollywood products, most recently Predators (2010).
  • The city of Budapest allowed Antal access to the subway system to shoot the film during the five hours per night the trains did not run.  A man claiming to be the Director of the Budapest Metro appears in a prologue to the film to stress that Kontroll is a work of fiction and that real Metro employees do not behave in the ways depicted.
  • Kontroll won the Prix de la Jeunesse (Prize of the Young) at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Hungarian film to screen at Cannes in twenty years.
  • Antal cited Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, and Beat Takeshi as influences on Kontroll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The most enduring image is a metaphor for the troubled Bulcsúis’s transcendence.  The kontroller hides in the underground sanctuary from the real world above. But the outside is only a symbol.  Bulcsúis is really seeking refuge from himself and his feelings.  Uncertain about his own emotions, and lacking in confidence, avoiding the world above is his way of postponing self-confrontation.  What then, can be more symbolic of his waiting deliverance than the symmetrical image of the great, silvery, central escalator leading to the bright lights and certain reality of the surface?  Bulcsú knows he must eventually ascend it but he has not yet the courage to face that eventuality.  Will his love for the mysterious, bear-costumed Szofi become the key to unlocking his emotions and freeing himself?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity. The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway. Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely set of plot elements. He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life’s daily ironies into an imaginative story. The resulting integration creates a unique, alternative viewing experience.


Original English language trailer for Kontroll

COMMENTS:  Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, Continue reading 76. KONTROLL (2003)

56. TAXIDERMIA (2006)

“Just as the body is overcome by desire, so naturalism is overcome by surrealism…”–György Pálfi, director’s statement to Taxidermia

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: György Pálfi

FEATURING: Csaba Czene, Gergö Trócsányi, Marc Bischoff

PLOT:  Three short stories exploring three perverted generations, beginning with an extremely horny soldier in the private service of a lieutenant.  His illegitimate child grows up to become a sport eater on the Hungarian national squad.  The grandchild is a socially inept taxidermist who cares for his grumpy, obese father and his caged cats.

Still from Taxidermia (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was Pálfi’s second movie, after the just-as-weird but much gentler Hukkle.
  • The first two segments of the film are based on short stories by writer Lajos Parti Nagy.  Pálfi wrote the third episode himself.
  • While working on Taxidermia, Pálfi won the 2004 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award, a $10,000 grant intended to be used to help the filmmaker create his next project.  The grant includes a promise for Japanese distribution for the completed film (estimated value: $90,000).

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A man ejaculating a torrent of flame.  (Don’t worry, you won’t have to watch long to catch this sight).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  By itself, the middle section of the triptych of stories—


English language trailer for Taxidermia

concerning the competitive eater with Olympic dreams—would have made a decidedly odd movie.  Flank that tale with stories of a WWII soldier with a hallucinatory libido and a taxidermist with demented aesthetics, stir with surrealism and garnish with grotesquerie, and you have one of the 366 Weirdest Movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Taxidermia will almost break the needle on your “I never thought I’d see Continue reading 56. TAXIDERMIA (2006)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)

Kontroll has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. Please visit the full certified weird entry for Kontroll for comments and deeper coverage of the film.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal

FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Bence Mátyássy, Eszter Balla, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, and György Cserhalmi

PLOT: A Budapest metro transit cop copes with eccentric passengers and coworkers as he

Still from Kontroll (2003)

pursues a veiled serial killer.  Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity.  The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway.   Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely combination of plot elements.  He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life’s daily ironies into an imaginative story.  The resulting integration presents a unique, alternate viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, neural convolutions of the Budapest underground.  A man runs for his life through a tunnel between two trains.  A hooded figure emerges from cracks in the wall to launch the unwary under oncoming subway cars.  A puzzling girl (Balla) haunts the maze-like passages disguised as a bear.  Ticket inspectors engage in madcap jousts and chases with each other when they are not comically pursuing a colorful assortment of freeloading ruffians.  A host of eccentric characters cavort and couple in a subterranean round-table of flickering signal lamps, iron Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)