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Werckmeister Harmonies
Werckmeister Harmonies
Actors: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla, Janos Derzsi, Djoko Rosic
Directors: Bela Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2006     2hr 25min

In Bela Tarr's celebrated film the arrival of a couple of bizarre circus attractions - the stuffed corpse of a huge whale and a mysterious character with magnetic powers called The Prince - sparks unrest in a provincial Hu...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla, Janos Derzsi, Djoko Rosic
Directors: Bela Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
Creators: Bela Tarr, Gyuri Dósa Kiss, György Fehér, László Krasznahorkai, Péter Dobai
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, KISS, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Facets
Format: DVD - Black and White,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 02/28/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/2000
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2000
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 2hr 25min
Screens: Black and White,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: Hungarian, Slovak
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

A stunning achievement, with few parallels in the history of
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 08/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The relative calm and complacency of the citizens of a depressed village is disturbed when a circus rolls into town, bearing the enormous carcass of a whale and a mysterious (and unseen) man titled "the Prince." A young man, an idealist, observes the tragedy that arises when the hopeless residents of his village are stirred into action by this anarchistic "Prince". The violence is quelled by the army, and the young man is forced to flee the village, having been implicated without cause in the horrific events.

The plot is something of a mystery, and feels more like an allegory than a depiction of real events. Better, since Bela Tarr himself denies that his films are allegorical or symbolic, it feels like a depiction of events that do not take place in this world but in a parallel universe that is similar enough to this world as to resonate and to suggest themes of universal import about the human condition.

It is a wonderful thing that the films of Bela Tarr are finally being released on dvd, since so far they have only been screened at festivals and special venues. I had been lucky enough to catch Damnation at an arthouse theater in London when I happened to be there on vacation. Of his other films, most notably the epic Satantango (also soon to be released on dvd!) and Werckmeister Harmonies, I had only had the chance to read several rave reviews.

I just saw this one last night and was stunned. The film contains two of the most amazing scenes I have ever encountered in the cinema. The first is the opening scene, in which the drunk patrons of a bar become momentarily a microcosm of the universe, and present a kind of "moving image of eternity" that conveys the possibility of hope and transcendence in a dark cosmos. One might say the remainder of the film works to create a darkness that compares to the eclipse this scene depicts as passing, and to force the question whether the hope this first scene describes is merely the product of a naive and idealistic imagination. The other scene comes in the midst of a horrific and violent act of destruction, that is nevertheless cut short and transformed to a kind of reverence in response to a simple and profound vision of human fragility. It is an astonishing moment, that could only be invented and captured by a master filmmaker. My only complaint is that dvd is not the ideal format for this film, as it really should be seen in a darkened room on a vast screen, on which the light and shadow that are so carefully articulated in this film could play out in their full glory."
Werckmeister harmóniák - Béla Tarr's cinema of involvement
Larry L. Looney | Austin, Texas USA | 11/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There are only a few directors whose films have required the audience to work along with the filmmaker in coming to an understanding of the topic at hand. Tarkovsky comes to mind immediately - but there have been others. No contemporary cinematic auteur belongs more in this category that Hungarian director Béla Tarr. His films are things of great beauty: the long, painstakingly designed and executed shots; the naturalism of the actors, giving the audience the feeling that they are witnessing unrehearsed reality; the convoluted, non-linear storytelling - all of these elements and more combine into a cinematic vision that is intrinsically unique and at the same time universal in the way it touches the viewer. Tarr is pretty tight-lipped about the `aim' of his work, but he has indicated that involvement of the audience is one goal. As strange as some of the images in his films might seem, Tarr eschews the term `surrealism' - he counters that the camera can only capture what is real.

WERCKMEISTER HARMÓNIÁK (WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES) is Tarr's latest work, released in 2000. The title refers to a theory of musical harmonic relationships developed by 17th century German music scholar Andreas Werckmeister. Cosmic harmony and disharmony are important themes in Tarr's film, which begins in a shabby bar in a provincial Hungarian town - one of the locals, János, is attempting to explain a total eclipse of the sun to a number of intoxicated men. He selects a man to represent the sun, then another for the earth, and a third for the moon. Setting them is motion in a barroom ballet that is both humorous and imbued with a sweet grace, he explains the planetary movements to them in terms of both strict science and universal harmony. This first scene is comprised of a single shot, the longest in the film at 11 minutes in length - it's beautiful to behold.

One of János's acquaintances is György Eszter, a music professor who is out to disprove Werckmeister's theories. János goes to check on him in the night and finds the elderly man asleep in his chair - he helps him dress for bed, tucks him in, and makes sure that the heat is working properly before going on his way. This scene is another single shot - 6 ½ minutes. The camera, from inside the house, picks up János as he arrives in the yard, watches through a window as he makes his way to a door, then turns to show the movements of the two actors through the rest of the scene. Nothing is compressed - everything occurs as seen, giving the viewer a rich sensation of experiencing what is being played out on the screen, deepening both the emotional and intellectual impact.

A travelling exhibition has come to town overnight - its only two components the body of a giant whale and a diminutive character known as `The Prince', whose theories and orations have incited violence and anarchy in other towns. When János goes to see the whale, he is visibly shaken by the experience of being so close to the great beast - he sees it as irrefutable proof of `God's imagination'. He attempts to convey his feelings to others as the film progresses - no one seems to understand how deeply it has moved him.

He overhears a conversation between the Director of the exhibition and a man who is a translator for the Prince. The Director is fed up with the increasing demands of the Prince - and fearful of the violence the little man seems to inspire. The Prince launches into a tirade decrying all aspects of what most consider to be civilization: `Under construction, everything is only half complete. In ruins, all is complete.' The Director knows what violence the Prince can inspire - he informs the Prince that he will have no more part of him, that he will not be responsible for unleashing `bandits and thieves' on the population.

After János leaves, the mood of the crowd becomes violent. The camera follows them, hovering just above head level, looking into their determined faces as they march toward some unknown target. This shot of the advancing mob is all the more disquieting for its silence: they advance resolutely toward their goal, the only sound their footsteps on the pavements. This take is married to an even longer shot depicting them reaching their destination - the local hospital - and the ensuing mayhem. Disturbingly, the silence continues, intensifying the impact of their violence. The camera follows them from room to room, pulling patients from their beds and beating them - their victims do not even cry out. The soundlessness of the destruction has the effect of magnifying the horror.

János sees the aftermath of the mob's work - and he is visibly and understandably traumatized by it. The viewer can almost feel the thoughts and emotions racing through his mind as he attempts to comprehend what he has witnessed.

Through his long takes (there are only 39 shots in the entire 2h25m film), planned and choreographed with such precision and care, Tarr compels the audience's attention to linger on the characters as well as on the entire mise-en-scène - allowing all aspects of the film to permeate conscious and subconscious of the viewer. The actors he has chosen masterfully convey the emotion and thought processes of the characters they portray. The sparse, strangely beautiful music is a perfectly utilized element, and the rich black-and-white cinematography adds greatly to the atmosphere.

This is the third film on which Tarr has worked with writer László Krashnahorkai, the previous two being 1988's KÁRHOZAT (DAMNATION) and his 1994 magnum opus, the 7h15m SÁTÁNTANGÓ. Other members of the team include Ágnes Hranitzsky (Tarr's life partner and editor), cinematographer Gábor Midvigy, and composer Míhaly Vig. Everything about his work comes together to truly make the whole greater than the sum of the parts - it has to be experienced for the true impact to come across. This is vital, visonary cinema."
"The Melancholy of Resistance"
Galina | Virginia, USA | 06/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The film is based on the novel "The Melancholy of Resistance" by László Krasznahorkai. This story takes place in a small Hungarian provincial town in mid-winter. The event that starts to build up the atmosphere of suspicion and unrest is the arrival to town of a circus consisting of only one giant lorry containing a huge, maybe the largest in the world stuffed whale and a mysterious figure who is called the Prince, s never seen except as a shadow on a wall and who possesses the sinister powers of making people act like a mob. The circus is a challenge to the citizens to understand what its place in their small and familiar universe is. They see the circus as the dark shadow of the moon during the total eclipse that "grows bigger... and bigger. And as it covers more and more, slowly only a narrow crescent of the sun remains, a dazzling crescent. And at the next moment, the next moment - say that it's around one in the afternoon - a most dramatic turn of event occurs. At that moment the air suddenly turns cold. Can you feel it? The sky darkens, then goes all dark. The dogs howl, rabbits hunch down, the deer run in panic, run, stampede in fright. And in this awful, incomprehensible dusk, even the birds... the birds too are confused and go to roost. And then... Complete Silence. Everything that lives is still. Are the hills going to march off? Will heaven fall upon us? Will the Earth open under us? We don't know. We don't know, for a total eclipse has come upon us..." When there is a failure to understand, the fear may cause the descent into cruel and senseless violence and turn the decent people in the merciless monsters.

As a director, Bela Tarr is extraordinary. A lot has been said about his camera work and long single take shots. His usage of only two colors - black and white is stunning, his sound works perfectly with the images adding to the building of the unbearable tension. His three main characters are played by the German actors Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, and Hanna Schygulla - the Fassbinder favorite actress, the star of his 23 films. Casting Lars Rudolf as a protagonist, the young man whose journey throughout the winter night on the streets of the town we follow step by step contributes to the movie's success. Rudolph looks like a cross between Prince Myshkin and a Rock Star, and he is actually Frontman of the group Stan Red Fox. Judging by the movie's ending, the comparison with Myshkin will sadly make sense, too. It will also bring to memory the final words of Anton Chekhov's "Ward #6" - "The whole world is Ward #6". You know, I would not say that everyone should run and find the film and watch it. I understand that it is not easy watching, it does require an active participation but I found it extremity rewarding because it introduced me to the master with the unique style, obvious talent and the interest to the eternal and difficult questions that may not have easy and immediate answers.

I am skeptical when critics announce every new interesting Eastern European director "New Tarkovsky" but I should say Tarr is the closest to him I've seen so far. The plot and the story were a little too easy and too obvious for me to follow but Tarr's ability to create an unbearable tension and atmosphere without any special tricks is amazing.

"Werckmeister Harmonies" is a masterpiece of melancholic resistance. I was resistant to it first, but then, its melancholy overwhelmed me.

The Most Beautiful Movie I Have Ever Seen
Vikram S. Valia | 05/03/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have seen this Bela Tarr masterpiece 3 times and it is by far the best and most beautiful film I have ever seen. Watching this movie is not really watching a movie, it's a magical experience, I guarantee you will never see anything else like it in your whole life. Trying to describe it is really useless, its pure magic. Buy this! It changed my life to realize it something this beautiful exists in the world. I'm serious. It is based on the Hungarian book the Melancholy of Resistance, which I am going to read as soon as possible. Tarr was one of the late Susan Sontag's favorite directors; her favorite of his were Santantango and Damnation. The only other Tarr film I have seen is Almanac of Fall and it is surreal and beautiful. But this film is both of those taken to amazing heights of sublimity. Sit back and enjoy!"