Capsule Recommendation: Satantango and The Last Wolf (a.k.a. Az utolsó farkas) by László Krasznahorkai

Laszlo Krasznahorkai Satantango (1985):

Satantango Krasznahorkai   Satantango Krasznahorkai #2

As I’m certain it was for many others — not least because, the conventional lagtime in publishing a comprehensive English-language translation of a work of formidable world literature notwithstanding, this constitutes his début novel — this is the first of Krasznahorkai‘s fiction I’ve devoured. In that spirit, I’m compelled to verify that (as with all those who’ve heretofore asserted their uninhibited appreciation for Krasznahorkai’s fiction) Satantango is an unqualified masterpiece of narrative art.

It is a big, black subterranean artefact of eschatology, human ruination and synchresis, some visionary text charting the systematic spiritual and physical entropy of the few corruptible members of some neo-feudal Hungarian agricultural co-op before the nationwide dissolution of communism in 1985. But like any apocalyptical allegory, this one’s also a conduit into the befoulment of man when confronted by the inexplicable figure of a prophet come to collude and succour those who seek easy resolution or look to spurious acts of sublimation to reconcile themselves to their personal and professional failures.

For most of my reading, it reminded me of a novel-length contemporary explication of Chekhov’s short-story, “Peasants”, but the style recurrently evoked the labyrinthine and incantatory prosody of Knut Hamsun, Melville, Bulgakov and Gogol — but there’s something, too, of Flannery O’Connor’s gothic evocations and Bolaño’s oeniric mythmaking and even Mervyn Peake’s high weirdness, so that it’s always eminently clear that Satantango is its own thing, a witchy dirge to the death of community, a book about the dystopic consequences that arise from money reasserting its Talmudic status of influence over our lives.

Perhaps the best thing about Krasznahorkai that is so rarely articulated is that his writing is always drolly hilarious. This is a book where the Messianic manifestation materialises before you expressing little but shopworn promises, but we’re all too preoccupied in pissing ourselves, skulking on our stomachs and writhing in our neighbours’ filth to notice.

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The Immigrant (dir. James Gray; 2013)

The Immigrant

The inaugural screening for my filmic fanboy dalliance at MIFF (the Melbourne International Film Festival) for 2014 was an evening première of writer/director James Gray’s The Immigrant — and, to invoke the timeworn clichè of all those nostalgists whom bloviate over pop.-culture, they just don’t make films like this anymore. They’d be right.

This is a film of a stately classicism and sedate formalism rarely seen outside of the Hollywood studio system romances of Elias Kazan, master of melodrama and monochromatic mood. You’d be hard pressed to disparage with or deviate from the Kazan associations when surmising Joaquin Phoenix’s brooding, elliptical and finally turbulent performance as Bruno Weiss, as there’s some suggestion of Brando in his penitent and dishevelled scramble for purity in the film’s climactic final scenes — albeit maybe A Place In the Sun-era Montgomery Clift, with his sweat-beaded brow and his convulsive retreat into guilt, would be more accurate.

However, there’s more to Gray’s vision here than mere cinematic mimicry or earnest homage, and the film blooms into something simultaneously familiar and strange through the startling, impeccable, emotionally-invested and invariably soulful performance of Marion Cotillard, who never flags in telegraphing to a hushed audience the moral erosion her character, Ewa Cybulska, feels she’s inflicted on herself and her dream for American providence. Continue reading