Film & Reviews

Notes on Satantango (the Book and the Film) – Part 1/3

by László Krasznahorkai
Translated by George Szirtes
New Directions, 2012
288 pages / $25.95  Buy from New Directions or Amazon







Directed by Béla Tarr
Screenplay by Lászlo Krasznahorkai
DVD: Facets Video, 2008
435 minutes / Available on Amazon







Released in Hungarian in 1985, Satantango, László Krasznahorkai’s first book, was translated into English only last year. Published by New Directions, the novel displays the melancholy, bleakness, and long sentences that define Krasznahorkai’s other books (War & War, The Melancholy of Resistance, etc.).

Krasznahorkai’s collaborator and fellow apocalypse maker Béla Tarr adapted the 288-page novel into a seven-hour film in 1994. Because of the duration between the appearance of the film and the publication of the English translation, we (like most) had watched Tarr’s adaptation long before reading its antecedent. This reversal of the traditional adaptation-viewing chronology (in addition to Krasznahorkai’s role as screenwriter) makes it difficult to think of the novel independent of the film. But despite the convergence of the two forms of Satantango, we do not believe the demands of the long take are the same as those of the long sentence.

What follows is a collection of take-by-take notes on disc one of the film and the corresponding passages of the novel. (Notes on discs two and three are forthcoming.) Our time stamps are based on the Facets Satantango DVD (2008). Throughout the notes, we acknowledge differences between the novel’s content and the film’s content, as well as translation differences between the novel and the DVD’s subtitles.


We see a cow emerge from behind the building, nothing in front of him but a vast scene of thick mud with glimmering streaks of wetness that resemble the trails that snails make when they zigzag across dark pavement. One cow becomes many, and they slowly make their way together. No one leads them or chases them but they seem to know their way. They take their time. They have, it seems, all the time in the world. One even pauses to mount another. This scene, though absent from the novel, sets a haunting tone of obliteration for the film. We watch the cows, then continue to watch, continue to watch past the time of watching, past the time of a simple a gaze or witnessing, look at them for so long that when the camera finally moves away from the herd of animals and pans past the dilapidated buildings, the mundane and bleak textures, the strange marks and letters, the utter signs of disintegration and decay become for us a relief. The wind howls and it feels like silence, yet it is not silent. We can hear the cows’ feet move through the mud, the mooing; the sounds are almost daunting, eerie. Without music (we keep waiting for it, hoping it will come to shake us out of the strange unreal reality of this scene, random sounds that seem to anticipate some cohesive and introductory soundtrack), the scene is discomforting but mesmerizing. Here, inside the muddy world we have found ourselves in, we learn to wait.

[1:35–9:06 / not in novel]



In voiceover:

“One October morning before the first drops of the long autumn rains, which turn tracks into bog, which cut the town off, which fell on parched soil, Futaki was awakened by the sound of bells.” (Satantango, film)

“One morning near the end of October not long before the first drops of the mercilessly long autumn rains began to fall on the cracked and saline soil on the western side of the estate (later the stinking yellow sea of mud would render footpaths impassable and put the town too beyond reach) Futaki woke to hear bells.” (Satantango, novel, page 3)

[9:06–9:50 / page 3]



We become complicit in anticipating THEM.

[9:50–9:58 / page 3]



There’s a window centered at the top of the frame. We can hear a sort of musical drone and subtle bells as the room and window grow brighter. At 11:15, there’s off-screen noise—the sound of Futaki removing bed sheets, we surmise. (Note that there’s no clock sound yet.) We come to consciousness with Futaki as he stands and limps to the window at 11:40. He’s wearing a sleeveless shirt and shorts. The room, a kitchen, is now visible. The sound stops, and Futaki comes back toward the camera. The ringing starts up again and he returns to the window. It stops once more and Futaki comes back to the bed. (In the novel, this scene contains a penetrating intrusion into Futaki’s thoughts.) “What is it?” asks Mrs. Schmidt, beginning the film’s first dialogue. Futaki tells her to go to sleep, then says he’ll “pick up [his] share tonight” or the following day.

[9:58–14:17 / page 4]



The camera has turned 45 degrees to the right, facing a small fridge and another table. Shod with laceless high-tops, Mrs. Schmidt crosses the frame from right to left. She moves almost out of frame to take a rag from the door; then she comes toward the camera, raises her nightdress, and squats over a pan. No face. Her head is on her left knee. She splashes water up at her crotch and then stands to wipe with the towel. She exits at left. A fly comes into frame. In the novel, Mrs. Schmidt is a sour-smelling woman. In the film, we have instead this sour-looking image of her. It’s significant that this scene comes so early in the film: an introduction to a quotidian perdition.

[14:17–15:33 / not in novel]



Mrs. Schmidt’s back is to the camera. She’s sitting at the table/window among a collision of patterns: wallpaper, curtains, table cloth, seat cushions, bureau cloth. Off screen (from bed), Futaki asks her, “You had a bad dream?” At 15:42, the fly appears on the seat cushion, hums.

Her dream: “…he was shouting…couldn’t make out what…I had no voice…. Then Mrs. Halics looks in, grinning…she disappeared…. He kept kicking the door… In crashed the door…. Suddenly he was lying under the kitchen table…. Then the ground moved under my feet….”

Futaki’s reply: “I was awakened by bells.”

Alarmed, Mrs. Schmidt looks over her left shoulder and asks, “Where? Here?”

“They tolled twice,” says Futaki.

“We’ll go mad in the end.”

“No,” says Futaki. “I’m sure something’s going to happen today.” (Our introduction to the anticipation that’s central to Satantango.) Does Mrs. Schmidt smile at this?

Like the bells that Futaki hears, Mrs. Schmidt’s dream is proleptic: Schmidt comes to the door, and Futaki shuffles off.

[15:33–17:50 / pages 6–7]



Though the density of text in the novel (there are no paragraph breaks) creates a lack of a clear hierarchy of action or language, in the film we follow the camera’s cue, the camera’s gaze. As Futaki hides in the other room, we stay on his side of the door. A mini-drama unfolds on the other side, but we are prevented from being invested in that. Or at least our distance from the scene doesn’t allow for that kind of emotional complacency, at least not yet. We wait with Futaki. Even after Futaki enters the other side to retrieve his cane and exists for a moment in that other space, currently inaccessible to us, the camera chooses to linger here. The indifference of the scene, the door, the camera. Then, with the waiting, the textures of the wallpaper and curtains starts to take on a strange form, as when you stare at a word too long and it begins to morph into something unnatural.

[17:50–20:10 / page 7–8]



There is the strange frantic hurriedness in the novel as Futaki internally exclaims about the temporary intruder (though perhaps it is arguable who is the intruder in any particular situation), “He’s going to take a leak!” In the film we are a silent observer of Futaki silently observing Mr. Schmidt taking a leak outside in the now very familiar Beckettian mud.

[20:10–21:34 / page 8]



On the left is Mr. Schmidt’s face; on the right is Futaki’s. Their noses are only a few inches apart. Schmidt, mustached and uneasy, is mostly visible. Futaki’s face is silhouetted. Futaki accuses Schmidt of colluding with Kraner to steal the money. Simpering, Schmidt says yes: 50/50. He encourages Futaki to join in and split the money three ways. Then he tells Futaki he wants to borrow his share so he can “find a place to settle.” Futaki doesn’t “want to stay here the rest of [his] life.” The camera drifts right. Organ gloom starts. In apparent agreement, Futaki says, “We’ve got to wait until dark before we leave.” (There are others; it seems they would be abandoning them.) Schmidt: “We said the same to Kraner.” Futaki: “Hmm.” Camera passes a long, curtained window, then a wall. Camera comes to another window on whose sill sit potted plants; we see a pig outside. Black again, and then we’re outside with the pig and the rain and the mud and the organ. Camera stops and a stray character walks from right to left holding buckets.

[21:34–25:10 / pages 8–11]



Futaki is seated at the table next to the window. He’s wearing a coat and facing the camera.  Schmidt is snoring at the side table. (Is there shame in this world?) Mrs. Schmidt crosses the frame preparing food. The camera moves toward Futaki, who says, “It’s raining.” Mrs. Schmidt replies with, “I can hear it.” Futaki says he’s going south, where the winters are shorter. The camera moves toward him. He says he’ll rent a farm and soak his feet; he’ll be a watchman at a chocolate factory or a porter at a girls’ dorm; he’ll “try to forget everything.” He wants only a “washbowl of hot water and nothing to do.” There are flies on the table. Mrs. Schmidt says she doesn’t know where they will go; the police will stop them. In the novel she sobs. Is the washbasin on the table at right? Camera continues to move toward Futaki and stops at the curtains.

[25:10–28:56 / pages 12–13]



What one can’t shake throughout the scene is the ticking of the clock, the incessant ticking that induces a strange but familiar anxiety in the reader’s body even (it almost seems as if Futaki himself is swaying back and forth to the rhythm set forth by the ticking, and then I’m reminded of the Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung movie Wheels on Meals where there is a guy who walks around ticking like a clock). The book instigates this strange feeling of protracted time differently than the film, with the description: “Time was passing very slowly and, luckily for them, the alarm clock had long ago stopped working so there wasn’t even the sound of ticking to remind them of time” (13). On the other hand, the film’s sound design exaggerates and emphasizes the presence of the craze-inducing ticking. The book emphasizes the clock’s absence. This long take also has some of the most beautiful framings of three people, where each seems to take a turn being relegated to the background as a third wheel, so to speak. How does the hierarchy of people and objects within a visual frame or space relate to the rhythm of passing time?

[28:56–38:11 / page 13–19]



There’s a noise. Schmidt gets up from the table as Mrs. Kraner opens the door and asks, “Have you heard? They’re here. My husband sent me to tell you. But you must know. We saw Mrs. Halics was here.” She goes on to say she knew the Horgos kid had lied about Irimias’s and Petrina’s deaths. “Hide and run for it? No way. Irimias and Petrina…you’ll see.”

Futaki gets up and the camera follows him and stops as he faces Schmidt from the opposite side. He puts his stocking cap on his hair-streaked head. Contemplating Schmidt’s face, he asks, “So, we’re going?” No answer. Schmidt puts on his coat and hat, follows Futaki into the foyer.

[38:11–39:45 / pages 19–20]



We are outside, a bleak and wet scene before us. It is, of course, raining. As Ranciere writes in his book Béla Tarr: The Time After, “In order for there to be a story, it is necessary and sufficient that there be a promise of escaping from the law of the rain and of repetition.” But also, “One does not win against rain or repetition.”

As the silhouettes of Futaki and Schmidt disappear down the path, the voiceover says: “So Schmidt went first, Futaki staggered behind him. He was trying to feel his way with his cane in the dark…. And the relentless rain merged Schmidt’s swearing and Futaki’s cheery, encouraging words as he repeats: “Never mind, old man, you’ll see, we’ll have a great life! A great life!”


“Schmidt left with Futaki hobbling behind with his stick, the wind snapping at the edges of his coat as he held on to his hat to prevent it flying away into the mud and tapped his blind way in the darkness, while the rain poured pitilessly down washing away both Schmidt’s curses and his own words of encouragement that eventually resolved into a repeated phrase: “Don’t go regretting anything, old man! You’ll see. It’ll be cushy for us. Pure gold. A real golden age!” (20)

[39:45–41:22 / page 20]



Although it’s clear that the christlike Irimias and his partner Petrina have “risen,” there’s also the question of whether the section titles’ “we” and implied “you” might be the other townspeople, who have a new purpose.

[41:22–41:32 / page 21]



A sordid entrance: The camera follows Irimias and Petrina as the wind blows a comical amount of debris, mostly paper, in the same direction. The noise of the wind and trash is overwhelming. At 43:10, the camera stops and Irimias and Petrina go on.

[41:32–43:14 / not in novel]



Here, the dominant and foreboding presence of the clock in the center of the frame. Waiting, waiting, waiting. The novel provides a great deal of reflective description. In the film, we wait too. The journey of waiting. Even messiahs are made to wait.

[43:14–45:14 / pages 21–22]



In the film’s first closeup of the great “messiah” or “wizard,” he is waiting. He too is uncomfortable, anticipating something, nervous perhaps, waiting, and enduring. So then, so are we. It is appropriate that our introduction to this character is under such uncomfortable circumstances.


Irimias: “The two clocks show different times. Both wrong, of course. This one here is too slow. The other, as if it showed the perpetuity of defenselessness. We relate to it as twigs to the rain: we cannot defend ourselves.”

Petrina: “Twigs and rain…? You’re a great poet, I tell you.”

Do we believe Petrina’s statement and take it as a credible one when the speaker looks like one of the Three Stooges? Is he serious, or is he mocking his companion? And then he asks about a snackbar.


The taller of the two men assures his companion, saying, “The two clocks say different times, but it could be that neither of them is right. Our clock here,” he continues, pointing to the one above them with his long, slender and refined index finger, “is very late, while that one there measures not so much time as, well, the eternal reality of the exploited, and we to it are as the bough of a tree to the rain that falls upon it: in other words we are helpless” (23).

[45:14–46:55 / page 23]



The camera (which has made an elongated counterclockwise pivot) is now at the other end of the hall, where the other clock is. A man comes out of the door in front of Irimias and Petrina and asks, “What are you waiting for?” This could be a question for any of the characters in Satantango; they’re all waiting. Funny that the man asks the only two who have some purpose and agency. Turns out Irimias and Petrina are on the wrong floor (Kafka!); the man leads them down the hall, toward the camera. Sound of heels.

[46:55–47:33 / page 25]



The camera moves up some stairs ahead of Irimias, Petrina, and the man. Camera stops on a landing and the three men go up more stairs and exit through a tall door.

[47:33–48:05 / not in novel]



The sound of clacking typewriter keys replaces the sound of the wind and the rain. One type of external element, with an arbitrary rhythm and resistance to a kind of silent hope, replaces another.




(In the novel, this is the scene in which Irimias and Petrina discover they’re on the wrong floor and in the wrong department. On page 30, they come to the right place.) An uncharacteristically cut-heavy part of the film, this section offers more exposition and anticipatory dialogue than anything we’ve seen so far. It begins with two leather chairs flanking a table. Behind the furniture there are dark wood cabinets, shelves. From the right side of the frame, a man enters. He’s wearing a blazer over his shoulders like a shawl, and he’s smoking a cigarette with his right hand. He moves with intensity and quickness—qualities none of the other characters have shown yet. The camera follows the man into a room where Irimias and Petrina are seated at a desk with their backs facing us. More dark wood. The man sits on the other side of the desk; he’s visible between Irimias and Petrina, who stand up. The man moves his right index finger from side to side, apparently to tell Irimias and Petrina to hand over their summonses. There are stars on his jacket’s epaulettes: He’s a captain. Irimias and Petrina put their summonses on the desk. After the men introduce themselves to him, the captain says, “Here, it all depends on what mood I’m in.” Reverse shot: Respectively, Irimias and Petrina look confounded and dumb. Back to captain, who asks why the men didn’t get jobs after they were “released.” He also mentions that they’re “under surveillance.” Irimias assures the captain that they’re on the side of the law; Petrina says they’re respectable citizens whose “services have been used for a good few years.” Incredulous, the captain accuses them of lawbreaking and villainy, says their lives have not been a tragedy. Some cigarette smoke comes into the frame from right. “Keeping order appears to be the business of authorities,” says the captain, “but it’s the business of us all. Order. Freedom, however, is nothing human. It’s something divine….” The camera moves in on the captain, who continues:

If you’re looking for a link, think of Pericles, [who says] order and freedom are linked by passion. We have to believe in both; we suffer from both…. But human life is meaningful, rich, beautiful, and filthy. It links everything. It mistreats freedom, wasting it. People don’t like freedom; they are afraid of it. The strange thing is there is nothing to fear about freedom. Order, on the other hand, can often be frightening.

Camera shows Irimias staring flatly as captain tells him he has “no choice but to collaborate” (my emphasis). Back to captain. Smoking, captain says Irimias and Petrina are outlaws and they know why. Looking down, presumably at their file, he says, “I don’t think I have to read the whole lot [of crimes?].” He tells Irimias he must work for him or he has no choice. (Seems he’s suggesting choice only comes from order.) Camera cuts back to Irimias; he stares at the captain. Camera is now back at the doorway, in the same place it was at the beginning of the scene. Captain dismisses Irimias and Petrina. They get up and walk toward camera. Captain stays put.

[49:50–51:18, 51:18–51:25, 51:25–52:01, 52:01–52:21, 52:21–53:49, 53:49–54:02, 54:02–54:32, 54:32–54:46, 54:46–56:08, 56:08–56:23, 56:23–57:29, 57:29–57:38, 57:38–58:18 / pages 25–36]



The scene: trees coming out of the pavement, the bricked-over ground. There is a dog barking. What is the dog barking at? It doesn’t matter. The dog continues barking, the outside setting continues existing, even after our characters make their way inside the building. Who retains their dignity better—the humans or the dogs?

[58:18–58:55 / page 37]



Irimias and Petrina are at a bar. Petrina, who looks morose, orders two drinks and cigarettes; camera follows bartender as she fixes drinks. She brings the drinks to Irimias and Petrina. Petrina rejects them, insisting on “large ones.” A cleaning woman pushes Irimias and Petrina out of her way as she mops. Petrina asks for cigarettes again because the barmaid has apparently forgotten them. There is laughter from somewhere. Irimias asks the barmaid what’s so funny. “Nothing,” she says. “Sorry.” In the smoky background, people drink and talk. Irimias and Petrina walk toward the camera and put their drinks on a high table. “Can you hear that?” Irimias asks Petrina. Petrina nods very slightly as he takes a drink. There’s a barely audible drone.

“What is it?” asks Irimias. “A machine? The lights? Someone’s singing? Who dares to sing here?” He turns to the crowd and shouts, “Quiet!”

[58:55–1:00:19 / page 38]



Camera, at opposite end of bar, rises from waist level as the drone becomes greater. Irimias says, “We’ll blow everything up.”

[1:00:19–1:01:00 / page 38]



Camera is back with Irimias and Petrina. Waitress with sunglasses says, “Maybe we should call the police.” The barmaid says, “There’s no need.” Why is there no need? Does she already know that Irimias and Petrina “have no choice but to cooperate” and are defanged? Irimias looks at Petrina again and says, “We’ll blow them all up. We’ll plant it in their jackets…or in their ears.” Looking pensive, Irimias goes on to say, “We’ll stick dynamite up their noses.” From the table, a cigarette is smoking. “We’ll have to stop this somehow, what do you say?” Irimias says to Petrina. Petrina replies, “Sure, why complicate things? We’ll blow them up one by one.” Leaving their drinks on the table, they walk to the door. They stare intimidatingly as they go. “We’ll do them all in,” says Irimias. “In a very short period of time.” He looks at Petrina, who is smoking. They leave and the camera comes to a stop on Keleman. He’s sitting near the door. A fly lands on the right lapel of his beaten leather jacket. Camera stays on him.

[1:01:00–1:02:30 / pages 38–39]



This time, the characters walk toward the camera. Irimias thinks he knows them (and yes, maybe he does, as it seems that he has basically described the beginning scenes of the film that let us know that this is, among other tales, a tale of entrapment and betrayal), yet Irimias, even with his knowledge and intuition, reports to someone higher:  He is a messiah who is part of a bureaucratic system, a wizard who is outside in the night and rain, battered by the elements.


“I know them inside out…. They just sit on the same dirty stools. Stuff themselves with potatoes and don’t know what’s happened. They eye each other suspiciously, belch away in the silence, and wait, because they think they’ve been cheated. Slaves that lost their master, but they can’t live without pride, dignity and courage.”


“They’ll be sitting in exactly the same place, on the same filthy stools, stuffing themselves with the same filthy spuds and paprika every night, having no idea what’s happened. They’ll be eyeing each other suspiciously, only breaking the silence to belch. They are waiting. They’re waiting patiently, like the long-suffering lot they are, in the firm conviction that someone has conned them” (43).

[1:02:30–1:05:01 / page 42–43]



It is very dark. We can barely make out the figure leaning against the dilapidated hut. The texture of the trees. The texture of the mud. The texture of the setting sun.

Sanyi:  “I’d been waiting for you…. Since you left here nothing’s changed.”

[1:05:01–1:06:10 / page 44]



About his sister Esti: “Mum beats her, but they still say she’ll be nuts all her life.” In addition to betrayal, deception. In addition to disintegration, conspiracy. These are also just words.

[1:06:10–1:07:12 / pages 45–46]



Sorrowful accordion music under Sanyi’s voice as he goes on talking about the townspeople. Camera moves down the road. Footfalls and kid’s voice still, but they’re not in the frame. Both of these sounds dissolve. Camera keeps moving and accordion gets louder. Naked trees, mud, murky sky. Bottom two thirds of frame are mud road.

[1:07:12–1:08:49 / page 46]



Frame is now halved horizontally. Camera is moving laterally, parallel with horizon rather than toward it. More leafless trees and accordion.

[1:08:49–1:10:46 / page 46]



We watch them arrive in the darkness and the music allows us to feel something again, a deep-seated feeling of regret or nostalgia or love or hope or hopelessness; it is the music that allows for a temporary reprieve from the just-trudging or just-living of the eternal waiting of life.


“In the east the sky clears fast like a memory. At dawn, it leans all red on the waving horizon. As the morning beggar trudges up the back steps to the church, the sun rises to give life to the shadow and to separate earth and sky, man and animal, from the disturbing, confusing army in which they became inextricably intertwined. He saw the fleeing night on the other side, its terrifying elements in turn diving on the western horizon, like a desperate, defeated, confused army.”

Though the narration in film does not mirror the English translation of the novel, we still get these snippets of Krasznahorkai’s masterful language.


“… while to the east, swift as memory, the sky brightens, scarlet and pale blue and leans against the undulating horizon, to be followed by the sun, like a beggar daily panting up to his spot on the temple steps, full of heartbreak and misery, ready to establish the world of shadows, to separate the trees one from the other, to raise, out of the freezing, confusing homogeneity of night in which they seem to have been trapped like flies in a web, a clearly defined earth and sky with distinct animals and men, the darkness still in flight at the edge of things, somewhere on the far side on the western horizon, where its countless terrors vanish one by one like a desperate, confused, defeated army” (47).

The significance of moments of transition. Krasznahorkai often spends a lot of time writing around these transition moments, such as Irimias’s entrance into the building. This entrance, a few steps, takes but a few seconds, and is simply an action among other actions, but carries the textual weight of a gesture lost in the darkness and under the burden of the entire timeline of this world.

[1:10:46–1:12:24 / page 47]



A command? Or an infinitive verb? What is the difference?




Sound: drone. Second scene again. This time we’re inside the doctor’s house; he’s looking out his window. Futaki (through binoculars) is looking out of the Schmidts’ window. He seems fearful, vigilant. Goes away and comes back, pulling curtain aside. He leaves again and the binoculars/camera move down and left to show a scruffy fence, mud, spigot, chickens, a cat or dog, junk against a wall. Binoculars/camera move up another wall as if studying the textures of a great painting; then roof/gutter, back down, right. A filthy black dog eating something, spigot again. In the novel, the passage reads, “He saw a blurred face in the Schmidts’ window and quickly recognized Futaki’s creased features: he looked scared, leaning out of the open window, searching intently for something above the houses.” (Characters are much more anonymous in the film.)

[1:12:34–1:16:53 / page 56]



Drone has stopped. We’re in the doctor’s house looking at him from left. He’s wearing a corduroy blazer, sitting at his desk, and holding binoculars. Has a beard and a tired face. Puts down the binoculars, still staring suspiciously at the activity outside. Breathing loudly and slowly, he pours fruit brandy into a measuring glass and pours water into another measuring glass. Drinks some, glances outside again, drags off a cigarette that was in an ashtray on his desk. He removes notebooks from the desk drawer. Camera is now at his left shoulder. Checks watch and begins writing/speaking: “Futaki is afraid of something.… He’s afraid of death.” Satisfied, he then says, “They’ll kick off anyway. You too, Futaki, you’ll kick off.” The doctor is a Nietzschean hero: He says yes to fate, to what is necessary in things. He is also ob-everything: He’s an obscene, obdurate, obese, obsessive observer. He’s obvious—an archetype, or at least a type. His presence oblongates the narrative’s circularity.

[1:16:53–1:20:17 / page 57]



Looking out the doctor’s window again: a dark dog drinking from a puddle. A question arises: who is better off—the dog or the human? The sound of the doctor’s breathing. The sound of pencil on paper. Coughing. The sound makes each of these gestures more textured, tangible, almost realer than real. The camera moves to reveal a notebook and hand. A drawing of what we have just been looking at outside. This scene is reminiscent of Max Frisch’s Man of the Holocene: the drawings, the compulsion to record and document. There is something appealing and cathartic about drawing, the role of drawing in the precise and photographic world of Tarr’s film. Finally, outside again. A pig in the mud. Rain. We keep returning to the animals outside in the mud and the rain. An acknowledgement: “It has started to rain. It won’t stop until spring.” How long does winter last here?

[1:20:17–1:28:23 / page 59]



An event. The doctor, smoking, reads aloud a passage from a book about erosion. (We remember that in Tarr, “All stories are stories about disintegration.”) The event is that the doctor falls asleep. Reading just a single sentence seems to drain him completely of his energy. As the camera stays with him, moving in slowly, we can hear his slow breathing and snoring. (The long take taken to such an extent that we will witness a man fall asleep and wake up in the duration of a single shot.) The tedium of life. We watch and listen to him sleep. He makes a noise like he might wake up, but doesn’t. We continue to watch and are either relieved or startled by Mrs. Kraner’s interruption.

“Everything seemed to have been waiting for just this moment. The place suddenly went dark as if someone had stood in front of the window: the colors of the ceiling, the door, the curtain, the window and the floor all deepened, the tuft of hair that formed the doctor’s forelock began to grow more rapidly as did the nails on his short, puffy fingers; the table and the chair both gave a creak and even the house sank a little deeper into the soil as part of the insidious revolt. The weeds at the foot of the wall at the back of the house began to spurt, the creased notebooks scattered here and there attempted to smooth themselves out with one or two sharp movements, the rafters in the roof groaned, the emboldened rats ran down the hall with a greater freedom” (61).

In the book, this happens the first time he falls asleep, but Krasznahorkai’s description seems to coincide with the feeling we have while watching the doctor on the floor after he falls, two shots later in the film. There is the strange sense of time passing at a different speed than it was before.

[1:28:23–1:31:35 / page 61]



Mrs. Kraner comes into doctor’s house; camera is on doctor’s right side now. She’s brought food, which he angrily tells her to take away. Arranges pencils on desk while she’s gone. (One of the most beautiful moments in the whole film.) Mrs. Kraner comes back and announces that she can no longer help him with food. He bitterly tells her to leave; she goes. He gets up, locks the door, and urinates in a small bathroom. Then he picks up a bucket and pours water from it into toilet. Comes back to desk, takes out a stack of small notebooks. He writes/says that Mrs. Kraner “can’t do it any longer.” Seems let down. Glowers.

[1:31:35–1:38:04 / page 62]



Doctor from rear: velvet chair, frothy light from window. He stands and slowly moves toward the camera again. He reaches around to the wall facing us and gropes for the bookcase (?). He falls pitifully and the bookcase falls too. His head is now on the floor near the camera. Camera moves right, showing the rest of his body: holey buttoned-up cardigan, corduroy suit pants, muddy boot. In background, earth coming through floor tiles. Sound of snoring again. In the novel: “He had no idea how much time had passed since he lost consciousness.”

[1:38:04–1:40:50 / pages 64–65]



It’s as if the doctor’s muscles aren’t working properly anymore. The inertia of life seems to have caught up to him. He is out of breath. Very out of breath. Yes, every single movement is difficult for him. It is almost painful to watch, and we despise our own distance in the matter. Too, his methodical nature is calming, familiar. The camera moves away from him, increasing our distance from a character we had gotten so used to being in extreme close proximity with. We can see all of him, his face, his body. We examine him as ruthlessly as he previously had examined Mrs. Kraner.

[1:40:50–1:44:01 / page 65]



We start to get a real sense of the layout of his house (this is not true usually of Tarr locations, where landscapes and places blend in and out of scenes). In his journal, he writes, “Today I ran out of the last drop of fruit brandy.” He stands and puts on a stocking cap and long coat. This is a difficult task. The camera lingers after he leaves; we observe the changed feeling of a place when it is empty of humans. The silence. The difference in weight. The indifference of one’s own home.

[1:44:01–1:49:09 / page 61]



Doctor walking in rain. Sound of shoes in mud. When the camera pans to show the doctor’s face, he looks exhausted. We don’t see his legs walking, so it’s not about the action. Nor do we have a long shot that lets us see the path he is on.

[1:49:09–1:51:55 / page 67]



Seated in a derelict warehouse/factory, the doctor wrings his hat out. Camera is on his left; he looks enormous. The brandy jug is behind him. He puts his hat back on, breathing steam. There’s the sound of the Horgos girls’ voices. He reaches into his pocket, stands, and looks up at a large rectangular hole in the ceiling. Walks away and the camera follows him. He walks up a staircase—an impossible challenge. The camera stays put as the doctor reaches the second floor and walks toward the sisters. Symmetrical shot. One of them asks if he “feels like a screw,” and the doctor says he just wants to warm up.

[1:51:55–1:55:32 / page 68]



It’s a very claustrophobic scene. The camera pans from face to face but remains very close to the action, like we are in the shadows just behind them, a little too close for comfort. It’s hard to see the scene from a distance, to have a more objective point of view of their situation, but the camera has limited our view, like a horse with blinders. We only see what has been revealed to us. Though the scene contains dialogue, we concentrate on the faces. The talking fades like background noise. The doctor, too, is not really paying attention to what is being said. We learn that the prostitution business supports the entire Horgos family, though we know that human dignity exists independent of morality. The doctor interrupts, “Can I have a cigarette for the road?” making their story inconsequential—their story describing their quest for survival. The situation might be tragic in a different light, but here, it is simply another story told in words. The tightness in his chest continues to haunt him.

[1:55:32–1:59:50 / pages 69–70]  



Perhaps one of the most striking shots in the film, it is also a difficult one to watch. We feel complacent in the struggle of the doctor, his exhaustion, the severe difficulty of every step, all to refill his brandy. He continues, swaying back and forth. We can barely make out the unsteady body in the dark. Then, the sound of accordion music, coming perhaps from the spotlighted building that also emanates light like a surreal and eerie oasis in the darkness.

“There was a hopeful light filtering from the bar door and through its tiny window, the one single point in the darkness to guide him. He was ridiculously close now yet it seemed the filtered light was not getting any closer but, rather, moving away from him” (72).

The doctor falls, in a strange moment of simultaneous humor, shame, concern.

[1:59:50–2:03:12 / page 71]




Jubilant accordion music coming from the bar. Esti runs up to the doctor and he pushes her away. He falls. She runs away and he tries to catch her.

[2:03:12–2:04:57 / page 72]



Trees in darkness. Sound of footfalls and breathing. The doctor emerges from the left side of the frame; the camera follows him. This seems the most dreamlike/surreal part of the film: There’s white light and fog in the background. The doctor puts his hand on a tree and calls out (overdubbed voice?), “Now there.” He raises the brandy jug. Irimias, Petrina, and the Horgos kid (small silhouettes) walk by in background. The doctor collapses.

[2:04:57–2:07:10 / page 75]



Daylight. The sound of fast footsteps. The leafy ground. We see a pair of legs, which belong to Keleman.  He helps the doctor up and towards the wagon. Keleman leans the doctor against the wagon’s bed, folds the tailgate down, and removes a step stool from the bed. Next he guides the doctor up into the bed, pushing him by the rump. He puts the step stool back, closes the tailgate, and gets in the driver’s seat. Keleman tells the horses to go, and the wagon moves away from the camera. The entire process is a laborious one, methodical, necessary, excessive. The doctor is disoriented (though he maintains a good grip on the jug).

We watch the wagon move away gradually down the road.


Voiceover: “‘My heart,’ he thought again and again. He longed to lie in a warm room, and be taken care of by sweet little nurses, sipping hot soup, then turn towards the wall. He felt light and easy and the conductor’s scolding echoed long in his ears: You shouldn’t have done it, Doctor. You shouldn’t have done it…”

[2:07:10–2:11:21 / page 75]


JARED WOODLAND and JANICE LEE are currently working on a book-length critical collaboration meditating on Satantango, both the film directed by Béla Tarr and the novel by László Krasznahorkai.

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  1. jeremy

      I saw the movie a few years back and just read the book about a month ago. I look forward to this…

  2. Jeremy Hopkins

      This Jeremy has never seen the movie and read the book in March of last year.
      [What about you other Jerms?]

  3. deadgod

      Obsessively minute milling – in keeping with Krasznahorkai, of the school of Proust (The Unnamable, Sebald, Péter Nádas). A fun ‘meditation’.

      For me, Tarr’s s l o w ness is a different thing – I think, because reading (almost always) demands intervention–even when authors try to hypnotize–that a/v doesn’t–as involving as it sometimes is–. The patience reading exacts is (again, to me) even contrary to the laziness that watching rarely fully disables. For example, though the one time I saw Werckmeister Harmonies (Tarr’s version of The Melancholy of Resistance) I was absorbed by it, I’m pretty sure that for 27 days of a month, I’d be too bored to sit through it. The Antonioni-Tarkovsky-Angelopoulos thing is defiantly viscous, where Krasznahorkai, even with, say, the long sentences, steps from one thing to the next (in them and by them).

      Just me, of course; maybe there’s many who won’t usually even be tempted to squat on the FF button with Tarr.

      Here’s quite a different take on fallen life: