The Incessant Deluge Of Cosmic Poverty, Comic Cruelty And A Bad Blow Job By Gabriel

Cows.

The first image and a finely significant shot of melancholy and derision during Sátántangó,  Béla Tarr’s grimly humorous rural noirish, static tangle of duplicity and apocalypse. The structure of this masterpiece seems to mimic the corny repetition of the tango, lending it a satirical edge, and resulting in resonant humor. Those cows for example? The opening scene features cattle doing their thing in the mud, (one unsuccessfully attempts to mount a mate, then pretty much says, “fuck it, man, I’ll walk around instead,”) a shot defined by its meticulous patience foreshadowing the action/inaction dynamic of the movie’s bovine characters. These are folk who often talk of escape and freedom, who are able to leave their dreary environment, but they don’t. Instead, they herd together and opt instead for ridiculous, soapy intrigue and pedantic routine. Rather than strictly interpret this as the characters’ choice – which is an option – I think of it more as a meditation on our conceptions of freedom. That word has always been a bit of a misnomer, more noted in sociopolitical rhetoric and further diluted by commercialism, because it’s a word people use when they usually mean “liberty.”

The Road, Plans, Conversations, Schemes, Gossip and a Long, Long, Long, Life
The Road, Plans, Conversations, Schemes, Gossip and a Long, Long, Long, Life

We have certain liberties depending on our circumstance, yet we are forever confined to our collective condition. So in the film, the constant rain, the ubiquitous overcast skies, the sounds of flies buzzing around symbolic of carrion, of death (and, perhaps, a grim comment on the cycle of life), and even insects crawling across the lens all serve to remind us that we are never really free, but rather enjoy certain mortal liberties. Some of us more, some less. For the characters in this film, it’s mostly the latter.

This is emphasized in the hypnotic long shots of landscape under the duress of oppressive weather, when, taken as a whole, sum up Tarr’s evident view of human life in this town, in that space, but not confined to that specific time. What we have here is a cosmic conceit. Our notions of a largely lifeless universe (our views of that are evolving, but the vastness of space is undeniable, therefore we continue to be haunted by the vacuum) are paradoxically echoed and mocked during the hours of Sátántangó. Inaction briefly punctuated by action. All gratitude for the reprieve, thank you. Action: usually schemes to rob money to feed the shared fantasy of escape between the characters, who are simultaneously scheming against one another. The effect is not unlike Waiting For Godot, in that inactivity forms a partial nexus of non-meaning, and that web of non-meaning completes the nexus of meaning wherein a hole is indeed something. Yeah, it’s all very existential, but this movie is so well done, and accomplished with an almost immaculate symmetry so exhaustive it might well make Chekhov envious.

The Deluge And The Slippery Steps To Where
The Deluge And The Slippery Steps To Where

Like the previous posts about Antoine D’Agata’s work, desperation, as it plays out in the discreet moments of the lives of the impoverished, is, like the incessant deluges throughout this opus, a driving theme so universal refutation is impossible. The irony of the simultaneously empathetic yet almost condescending gaze strikes a brilliantly brittle balance of contempt and tragedy, fertile for extrapolation on almost any level, whether it is political, social, the tediously particular or the cosmic. Like the best moments of Ulrich Seidl’s work, the cruel melancholy, though not as icy in Tarr, ascends to the sublime, then slips from our perception like an individual drop of rain into a filthy puddle on a lonely muddy road. Or in other words, I apotheosized and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.

Regardless whether Tarr’s intent was for us to ruminate that the collapse of social order would somehow lead to a new primitivism, an inevitable tribalism here represented by the failing of a collective farm and the void of  consensus it creates, I can’t help but do so, and recall Riddley Walker, each framing our current global trajectory. A path we’re taking, not only in America, but universally, as we’re dominated by the machinations of power and the pursuit of wealth as its own end. Echoing Eliot’s famous line, Sátántangó is, among so many other things, a peculiar and funny amplification of an apocalyptic trumpet blown by bloated Gabriel, who slips up and farts as he raises his triumphant instrument to signal the end of time. Now that’s ironic as we watch rapt in all those strangely seductive scenes of drenched and desolate landscapes that intimate the alpha and the omega.

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About DECAYKE

I join words and break notes.
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