In Béla Tarr’s surreal epic Werckmeister Harmonies, a nameless European town is the center of a cosmic struggle. Tarr’s precise yet effortless command of the long take is so transcendent as to suggest the presence of God. Every stoppage point within each shot becomes a heavenly composite of the film’s collective whole. Gabor Medvigy’s camera delicately roams and collects the light and shadow that suffocates the film’s existential terrain. Janos Valushka (Lars Rudolph) steps into a local bar and perpetuates an abstract game of order with the bar’s pawn-like patrons: The drunken men circle somberly around each other, aping the movement of the earth and moon around the sun. Drowned by an impenetrable yet hopeful darkness, this silent entity of a film becomes a purgatory between progress and complete an utter self-annihilation. A carnival attraction arrives and situates itself at the town square; it is there that ghostly men congregate, circling a truck that contains a large, metaphoric whale. Janos is entranced by the whale’s omnipotence; its godly purity becomes the antithesis of the resentment Janos’s uncle harbors for Werckmeister’s splitting of the musical octave. The faceless Prince is the carnival’s dictatorial ringmaster; his shadowy form signals the nightmarish tyranny the town’s men take out on a dilapidated hospital’s patients. This scenario is accompanied by Tarr’s most startling masterstroke. His harmonious camera slithers silently in and out of a hospital held siege by political uncertainty and aggression against the meek that should inherit the earth. Medvigy’s camera pauses, focusing on a curtain that reveals the frail naked form of an older man. On cue, Víg Mihály’s melancholic score erupts and the film’s tyrants are forced to assess their vicious need to strip the world of its humanity.
The disc’s image suggests the print was beaten to a pulp by the film’s angry mob. Detail is practically nonexistent and the pixel-ridden blacks almost make it impossible to make out anything that transpires on screen-Lars Rudolph’s fleeing near the end of the film is especially embarrassing. Save for the dubbed dialogue, audio is hollow-sounding, as if it had been recorded inside a tin can.
A booklet that includes essays from Peter Hames of Kinoeye and Jonathan Romney of Sight & Sound.
Facets Video has allowed their staff of pigeons to crap on Béla Tarr’s film monument. Still, Region 1 audiences will have to make do until a Criterion-like dove comes to their rescue.