Not long ago, The British Film Institute issued its Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time List, the top place going to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. But what’s this? Not far down the list, coming in at number 35, is a film with a Hungarian title, directed by one of Hungary’s top living directors. We speak of none other than Béla Tarr and his film Sátántangó. That’s rated above such better-known films as François Truffaut’s 400 Blows and Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot.
While Béla is well-known in Hungary, his fame abroad is somewhat limited to art-house cinema lovers and other film directors. Gus Van Sant, for example, is said to have been greatly influenced by Tarr’s style, in his long, atmospheric shots, particularly in his films Gerry and Elephant. Other critics have likened Tarr to John Cassavetes for his use of social realism (though Cassavetes, we will add, didn’t make it onto the BFI list at all). Followers of international festivals will note that Tarr’s most recent film, The Turin Horse, won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival last year.
Though Tarr’s fame and reputation are only growing, you won’t see him moonlighting as a director of Coke commercials or guest directing on Breaking Bad anytime soon. Sátántangó is an epic 7½ hour black and white tale of communal farmers making a go of it in the Hungarian countryside, and includes multiple long, unbroken shots with little or no dialog or physical action. Interestingly, the author of the novel upon which the film is based, László Krasznahorkai, is recently coming into quite a bit of fame himself, due to the fantastic amount of hype surrounding the American release of his novel Sátántangó (but more on László Krasznahorkai in another post).
Though Hungary is not well represented in the BFI list outside of Tarr’s contribution (what about Mephisto?) it is a huge accomplishment for this epic film by this living legend.
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