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Time Out says

TAVERN ON THE GRAY Not even accordions can lighten the mood in this Hungarian pub.

Compared to other legendarily lengthy touchstones like the nine-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985) or Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 15-hour adaptation of Berlin Alexander- platz (1980), Bla Tarr's behemoth parable practically whizzes by at a mere seven-and-a-half hours. Nonetheless, this epic tone poem's reputation as a particularly difficult slog precedes it: For starters, there's the movie's notoriously deliberate pacing and near lack of a narrative arc. The locale, a Hungarian town suffering from serious socioeconomic decay, is the definition of Eastern European dourness. Precious little happens, and time seems to stand still; when something actually does go down, it tends to be either depressing or downright atrocious (if the thought of viewing an actual feline-icide severely disturbs you, consider yourself warned). Let's just say this isn't what you'd call feel-good entertainment for a typical Friday night.

Yet, for a work that wallows in nihilism and possesses a running time longer than a transatlantic flight, Stntang's ability to hold viewers in thrall never flags. Tarr's use of unbroken, static takes that go on for an eternity and his endless tracking shots down trash-strewn streets aren't about virtuosity so much as creating a trancelike, transcendental experience. The director's latter less-is-more attitude would prove to be a blessing (his superior follow-up, 2000's Werckmeister Harmonies, boils a similar apocalyptic story down to two hours), but the extremities of this ne plus ultra art film don't detract from its epiphanies or essentiality one iota. (Now playing; Museum of Modern Art. See also "Take five with...," page 86.)—David Fear

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