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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Satantango by Rosenbaum

Already cited in a previous post, The Importance of Being Sarcastic : Satantango, review by Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader, October 14, 1994, also in Essential Cinema) :

"(...) So far I could almost be describing a painting. But even though the action of Satantango covers only two consecutive fall days, followed by a couple of mordant epilogues occurring later the same month, this is a narrative constantly in motion -- at least in the way we experience it -- thanks to Tarr's elaborately choreographed camera style and respect for duration. Filmed in extremely long takes, the movie makes us share a lot of time as well as space with its characters, and the overall effect is to give a moral weight as well as narrative weight to every shot: as detestable as these people are, we're so fully with them for such extended stretches that we can't help but feel deeply involved, even implicated in their various manoeuvres. (This is somewhat less true of Tarr's two impressive previous features, Almanac of Fall and Damnation, in which Tarr's mobile long-take style is less tied to the characters' movements.)
When these grubby characters are indoors and relatively stationary, the camera tends to weave intricate arabesques around them, all but spelling out the allegorical spider web that the offscreen narrator evokes when describing the ties between these people. When they're outside and walking -- most often in the rain, and without umbrellas -- the camera is generally content just to follow or precede them across endless distances. Either way, the unbroken flow of the storytelling and our moral implication in the events are both essential consequences of the camera style, and conversely the formal beauty of that style is never less than functional to the film's narrative and morality."

Slowness and Alienation. Two CC characteristics.
Slowness of the camerawork and the characters movements, to get involved in their lives, to walk in their shoes, to share their mundane lives, to spend time with them, outside of a plot-driven intrigue.

"On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. C'est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose, qui fait ta rose si importante. Les hommes ont oublié cette vérité. Mais tu ne dois pas l'oublier. Tu deviens responsable pour toujours de ce que tu as apprivoisé. Tu es responsable de ta rose." such was the fox' secret to Saint-Exupery's Little Prince.

CC places its bets on the duration of the relationship between the audience and the characters, rather than to rely on the explanatory dialogues and the action-reaction plots. Maybe these stretches of time, like Rosenbaum says, actually tame the characters for us, because we get to share their shameful intimacy, their less elevating moments, the instants when they are not "acting" to impress people around them. They become like neighbors, for the better and the worse, the familiarity and the disturbance. We become the new neighbors of these people.
I'm pretty sure the voyeuristic fascination for this crude mundanity works the same way Reality TV builds upon. We should investigate this uncanny similarity. The application of this fascination and the resulting familiarity evolving from this proximity is of course very different in CC. Yet the mechanism of familiarization seems comparable to me.

"Nevertheless, the way this film interfaces allegory with realistic detail may distract us from the fact its universe is brilliantly constructed, not merely discovered. Despite the apparent homogeneity of the godforsaken setting, the carefully selected locations are in ten separate parts of Hungary. (According to Tarr, the most "Hungarian" aspects of the film are its landscapes an its humor.) Similarily, the remarkable sound track, which has a tactile physicality and density, was created rather than found: practically all of the film was shot silent, and the dialogue and sound effects were added later. If the long takes, like the landscapes and the sound track, correctly convey the impression that Tarr is a materialist filmmaker, paradoxaly his materialism is arrived at through methods that in some ways are the reverse of those of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, who tend to regard directly recorded sound as a kind of moral necessity."

Rosenbaum reminds us that the documentaristic realism of CC films location, opposed to the artificial studio sets of mainstream movies, might not be as close to real life as we imagine. He also mentions Tarr prefers the more photogenic fake rain to real rain. They immerse ourselves in a full universe, that is still forged with the traditional tricks of cinema. It's especially interesting to oppose Tarr to Straub-Huillet.
The films of Straub-Huillet are intellectual staging of literary texts, with stylized performances, captured in a spontaneous, direct, low-tech manner, with direct sound and raw nature. Tarr's technique is more artificial (his staging and camerawork requires a lot of preparations), but the mundanity is closer to dailylife, the scenes less intellectualized, the dialogue less literary (even if based on a novel), the plot less complicated, the staging less abstracted.
The versimilitude of the sound track is a moral issue for Straub-Huillet, but looks more artificial onscreen to the audience, because too rough, too crude. We notice that cinema requires hard work and sophisticated design direction to look natural onscreen.

6 comments:

Michael Kerpan said...

> We notice that cinema requires hard work
> and sophisticated design direction to
> look natural onscreen.

One sees this principle at work in the (Japanese) documentary on the making of Kiarostami's "the Wind Will Carry Us" (a supplement to the French DVD release). And, by report, this principle was at the foundation of Ozu's work.

HarryTuttle said...

This is interesting. Unfortunately this documentary is not part of the Kiarostami retrospective in Paris... There is a masterclass from 2002, "Kiarostami by Kiarostami", where he comments "The Wind Will Carry Us".

By the way, I saw 10 on Ten recently, and it's almost a manifesto for "Contemplative Cinema"! He talks about mundanity, non-actors, long takes, the invisible camera, the removed director before reality...

Michael Kerpan said...

I believe the truly indispensable French DVD set of Wind Will Carry us also contains Kiarostami on Kiarostami.

Alas, I still have not managed to see 10 on Ten.

HarryTuttle said...

You're right. I wonder why they don't show both documentaries. But I could always watch the DVD at the Cinemathèque library. Thanks for the tip.
The making-of I saw of him on the set of The Taste of Cherry, filmed by his son, didn't show a very sophisticated direction though... He improvised camera placements, he blows himself some dust on his actor's face for "make up", he shot the ending on video.
Except maybe when directing actors he insists on the correct diction, but he works with non-actors, so it's understandable.

Now, should we compare Kiarostami and Tarr? I've put them in the same sub-family on my tentative CC map. What do you think?

Michael Kerpan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HarryTuttle said...

I notice you've seen Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe, and reviewed it on your blog. You could even cross post it here to talk about its contemplative aspects, if you like.