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DID YOU READ

On DVD: “Satantango,” “Eagle Shooting Heroes”

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07212008_satantango.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

The behemothic, almost impossible to see, hardcore-critic-exalted art film legends keep coming at us on DVD — will there be any Holy Grails left? — but it’s likely that no movie has been awaited as intensely and with as high expectations as Béla Tarr’s “Satantango” (1994). Finally, after literally years of rumors and broken promises and restoration troubles, Facets has brought this cathedral of a movie to disc, and we can all explore its frontiers at will. Not that we all will — “Satantango” is one of those films that, because of its size (nearly seven hours), form (long-take extremism) and weighty thrust (ambiguous Hungarian existentialism), has always worn the mantle of being a cinephiles’ test case, an experience that separates the apostles from the pretenders. Maybe Tarr made it with that in mind — by its very nature, the film intends to be an immersive trial. You don’t just watch “Satantango” — you live it, your biorhythms adjust to it, and the upshot is not what you’d call a walk on the bright side of the street.

That’s not to imply that Tarr’s movie is dull or even minimalist — it’s one of the richest films I’ve ever seen, brimming with visual courage, narrative duplicity, stark moody beauty, puzzles, satire, lurking drama, off-screen mysteries, and inexhaustible metaphoric readings. The setting is as important as the story, and in the end, more informative: a tiny collective-farming village somewhere in the endless Hungarian flatlands, so constantly beset by driving rain that the ground is endless mud, the buildings are rotten, and the outside world is permanently kept at bay by the overflowing bogs and washed-out roads. Tarr patrols this landscape so thoroughly — following his actors on interminable slogs, or tracing the wanderings of farm animals looking for food — that by the end of the film you feel as if you’ve just finished a six-month sentence on the worst work farm in the world. What happens here isn’t, ironically, terribly clear: As the farm’s desolate and soul-wasted denizens skulk aimlessly about in the Communist-era ramshackle digs, a previous farm inhabitant, rumored to have died, is now said to be returning in a Messiah-like fashion. Once he does, walking in from the rainy wasteland, he is both considered suspect and accepted as a kind of savior; he cons the wary collective to hand him their savings in the service of some plot that will release them from their dire landscape. Meanwhile, old hostilities arise, a teenage girl lives out a perhaps universal scenario of cruelty (to a cat) and victimhood, and the dead dreams of Communism and the new fantasies of wealth keep getting floated like lead balloons in the grim kitchens and bars and barns that alone disrupt a relentless horizon. Working in twelve ill-defined chapters (like a tango — six forward, six back), the film is so elusive about its narrative you can still be not sure by its end which large chunks of the film uncoiled in film-time simultaneously with other chunks.

07212008_satantango2.jpgWhew. Shot in profound and serotonin-depleting black and white, “Satantango” forces you to take long walks in its particular hell, and Tarr’s fluency with moving-camera compositions (and with the behavior of nature and animals) seems at the same time to be almost superhuman. I don’t seen any reason not to consider the film (co-written by novelist László Krasznahorkai) a folly-of-man parable on the devastation of Communism followed by the ethical rot brought on by capitalism, even if Tarr has preferred to consider the film’s agenda to be “cosmic.” (Such a reading would, after all, suggest that the Messiah complex that constructed the Christ story also created the idolatry around Lenin and the free market-capitalist cult figure of your choice.) But Tarr’s movie is a spectacle, too, even as seen on DVD (you are forbidden to touch your remote), in ways that almost define film as an art form. Holding the ground of the great plan sequence tradition forming Kalatozov to Jancsó to Tarkovsky to Angelopoulos, Tarr sets a high bar here for the use of motion and off-screen space, not settling for filling the frame and carrying us along with story, but managing instead to invoke a separate world.

There is also, once again, the issue of extreme length. Cinephiles fall to their knees for gigantic auteurist films for a reason: They are not efficiently manufactured and absorbed artworks so much as life events, subject to accident, ambiguity, boredom, anticipation, empathy, resentment, dissipation, meditation, epiphany. Lifestuff accumulates with the hours, so we are forced to regard the movie as a real-time event that may, indeed, have no end. (Once a movie passes the 200-minute mark, it might as well not have an ending, which was in effect the point of time-bandits Andy Warhol and Jacques Rivette.) In any case, the culmination of a four-or-more-hour film cannot help but have cataclysmic impact compared to a climax arriving after an orthodox hour-and-a-half. It’s an aesthetic of abandon, not concision. Extraordinary length requires complete surrender — established narrative parameters are rendered impotent and viewers’ expectations are irrelevant. One of cinema’s great and secret subjects is the drift of time, despite the fact that ordinary film syntax has always worked to sublimate and abbreviate it for brisk entertainment purposes. Time is the long movie’s black box, a silent, naturally occurring entropic action that impresses upon us as ordeal memory, as overwhelming love and fear, as an unshakable reality. Films like “Satantango” may not necessarily change your life, but they cannot help but become a part of it once they are experienced. What more could we want from a movie?

07212008_eagleshootingheroes.jpgAfter all that vital expenditure of brainwork, will, patience and attention, you might see yourself as deserving of Jeffrey Lau’s “Eagle Shooting Heroes” (1993), a Hong Kong self-parody that’s as utterly goofy and bubbly and schticky as any Keystone Kops two-reeler, but packed with ordinarily stoic stars (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Leslie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung Ka Fai, etc.) making ridiculous hay of their screen personas and the entire wuxia pian genre. The story is typical genre hooey (based upon the same novel as producer Wong Kar-wai’s “Ashes of Time,” though you’d never know it), but the Sammo Hung-choreographed action is hectic, free-flying craziness, in the way real martial arts epics were before the advent of digital imagery. It’s a plan I’ve tested for you: Follow up the unforgettable seven-course banquet dinner of deeply resonant goulash with a fruity-gingery umbrella drink, and relax.

[Photos: “Satantango,” Facets, 1994; “Eagle Shooting Heroes,” Kino, 1993]

“Satantango” (Facets) and “Eagle Shooting Heroes” (Kino Video) are now available on DVD.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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