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The Cinematic Bodies of Eastern Europe and RussiaBetween Pain and Pleasure$
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Ewa Mazierska, Matilda Mroz, and Elzbieta Ostrowska

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474405140

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474405140.001.0001

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Alcoholism and the Doctor in Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó

Alcoholism and the Doctor in Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó

(p.53) Chapter 2 Alcoholism and the Doctor in Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó
The Cinematic Bodies of Eastern Europe and Russia

Calum Watt

Edinburgh University Press

Alcoholism forms a constant presence in the films of Béla Tarr. The focus of this chapter is on one episode from Tarr’s seven-hour-long masterpiece Satantango (1994), a film about life in a collective farm during the end of communism in Hungary. The episode centres on a reclusive, obese, and severely alcoholic doctor, played by Peter Berling, whose chief pastime is to sit at his desk drinking and obsessively recording every aspect of the petty goings-on at the estate in a journal. However, in this episode he finds himself having run out of alcohol and reluctantly resolves that he must leave to get some more. In this hour-long episode the camera follows this sick man on a veritable odyssey through the rain to the pub where the rest of the peasants are cavorting riotously. This intimate and yet epic treatment of bodily needs has few equals in cinema. In this chapter I show through close formal analysis of scenes featuring the doctor that what is often considered the essence of Tarr’s style – slowness – is found to have its roots in an attentive depiction of the physical life of the body. In addition, it is typical of Tarr’s style to situate the body within a material environment, a theme brought out in Satantango through vast images of the Great Hungarian Plain and as the doctor is shown reading from what seems to be a geological prehistory of Central Europe. Through an engagement with key writers on Tarr (András Bálint Kovács and Jacques Rancière) as well as Gilles Deleuze, I suggest there are two times at work in Tarr’s depiction of alcoholism: the heavy present of the body and another time which takes flight from the travails of the body.

Keywords:   Béla Tarr, alcoholism, body

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