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Review: Werckmeister Harmonies

Béla Tarr’s precise yet effortless command of the long take is so transcendent as to suggest the presence of God.

Werckmeister Harmonies
Photo: Menemsha Films

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.

Cast: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla, Ferenc Kállai, Mihály Kormos, Putyi Horváth, Éva Almássy Albert, Irén Szajki, Alfréd Járai, Gyorgy Barkó Director: Béla Tarr Screenwriter: Béla Tarr Distributor: Menemsha Films Running Time: 145 min Rating: NR Year: 2001 Buy: Video

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