1994 epic masterpiece

Rating: 20/20

Plot: Workers on a communal farm decide to take off with all the money, but the plans are changed upon realizing that another guy, presumed dead, is returning. Meanwhile, a little girl abuses a pussy like she thinks she's Donald Trump or something, and an alcoholic doctor watches it all. It rains a lot.

Two steps forward, one step back. I looked it up, and that's essentially what's going on with a tango. I figured the structure of this would be like a 7 1/2 hour tango, and indeed, that's what it appears to be. You watch an initial scene unfold, an extended tracking shot that you expect when popping in a Bela Tarr movie, and then a true opening scene involving three characters, a scheme, and a little infidelity. Then, an inciting incident when they get wind that the Christ-like dead guy and his sidekicks might be returning. In the second chapter, you catch up with that guy and his beard, and you find out he's up to no good. And then, you're introduced to the doctor character, and you get to see that whole first chapter unfold again from his perspective as he watches from his window and writes about it and draws a picture.

If that sounds a little dull, it probably will be for most people. I did mention the movie was 7 1/2 hours long, right? I don't think Bela Tarr movies are for everybody, and I definitely wouldn't start with this one. There are tedious moments of time where nothing at all seems to be happening, and nothing seems to be pushing any sort of plot forward. It's as slow and meditative as any movie you're likely to see. If you know Tarkovsky, you'll have a head start on most people, but Tarr tells his stories even more deliberately than Tarkovsky did. Personally, I loved the space. You had no choice but to absorb these characters and what was happening with them. You feel the apathy, the quiet chaos, and this bleakness hovering over this farm like the always-present storm cloud. Themes don't develop; they fester. And you're given so much time with all of these black and white characters in a black and white world, that you can't help but to absorb that, too.

Again, I want to point out that this isn't for everybody. No attention span? Don't watch this. You can't handle watching a disturbing scene where a cat is being abused by a little girl? Don't watch this. But if you've got the patience and can handle the animal abuse, this is a rewarding experience. There's bleakness, but there's also a humor, most notable in a 10-or-so-minute dance sequence (one shot, of course) featuring a bunch of drunk people, an accordion, and a guy pacing back and forth with a bread stick on his face and a scene with the government officials typing out revised descriptions of the other characters. It's a dark, sneaky humor, but it's definitely there.

And it's just so beautiful. I love Bela Tarr's eyes, and his patience as he allows these scenes to unfurl naturally. Sure, you could argue that you don't need to see everything that Tarr forces you to see, but I can't figure out why you'd argue that. I was engrossed for the duration, and most of that was because of how visually stunning this all is. That aforementioned opening shot of a bunch of cows, lots of tracking shots following characters as they're walking, the repeated scenes from different perspectives, the slow zooms. You might be bored, but it's unquestionably gorgeous.

Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse beat out Swiss Army Man for my best picture award last year, and I think this has a shot to be the third movie of his that wins that particular award.

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