Monday 18 January 2010

Werckmeister Harmonies (Werckmeister Harmóniák) [2000]

Werckmeister Harmonies, made by master filmmaker Bela Tarr, isn’t really a movie to everyone’s taste, what with its lumbering pace, non-narrative structure and complex philosophical overtones. Nevertheless, I feel everyone must give it a try, even if it’s just for the experience. As bleak and disturbing a movie as the frozen Hungarian town in which it is set, the movie follows our protagonist Jancos (perhaps a stand-in for the auteur himself), a soft spoken and gullible young man, who works at a post-office and also runs errands for an elderly researcher on music. He marvels at the cosmic harmony in our universe (the opening ‘bar’ sequence is something to be watched to savour) and stares with wide-eyed wonder at the strange bounties ushered by ‘God’ on earth. Meanwhile, the ominous arrival of a traveling circus show has led to the growing murmur, madness and chilling mayhem in the otherwise peaceful-looking town. Set to a haunting, though sparsely used, score, the movie managed to mesmerize and spellbind me with its austere yet devastatingly beautiful black-and-white photography. The most awesome aspect about this epic lies in its brilliant use of gargantuan long-takes (including ones lasting over ten minutes!) that, on one hand, display audacity of the rarest kind, while on the other, intoxicate the viewers by teleporting them right to the desolate, near-surreal landscapes.

Director: Bela Tarr
Genre: Avant-Garde/Experimental/Psychological Drama
Language: Hungarian
Country: Hungary


Alex DeLarge said...

Yes! SOme love for Bela Tarr! This made my Top Ten of the decade and is a masterpiece. If you get the chance see SATANTANGO but be's 8 hours long.

Kriti said...

I haven't seen most of the movies you review and I'm no big moviebuff either. But I'm definitely a fan of your reviews. Again, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the judgement, and frankly, I do not cae much for just the reviews are so brilliant. Each one a work of art, a piece of literature in itself. :-)

Dave said...

Tarr is the gaping blind spot in my viewing history. I'll have to bump this one way up on the Netflix queue after this fine endorsement.

Just Another Film Buff said...

Make way for the master to show us how it is supposed to be done. My top 10 of the decade for sure. This is such a rich film, works on so many levels.

Sam Juliano said...

That bar sequence is indeed a masterpiece-within-a-masterpiece. Yep, I agree with JAFB that this one works onj a number of levels and agree with Shubhajit that it's an "experience" to watch a Tarr film. Mitzy's almost eerie score is brilliantly effective, and that "austere" cinematography you speak of is hypnotic. Th elong-takes of course are one of Tarr's trademarks.
For me this film ranks a close second behind the marathon SATANTANGO in the Tarr pantheon.
Once again your specialty is evident, in your ability to say so much - and what's truly important in your capsule assessment.

Shubhajit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shubhajit said...

@Alex: Yeah, a lot of people call Satantango the greatest movie of the 90's. Now all that is required is some courage (make that 'a lot') to actually go through with it :) But I'm sure I'll watch it someday.

@Creation: Thanks a ton for the appreciation. I try to do my bit. Do keep visiting.

@Dave: Well, if I were to similarly mention all the blind spots in my viewing history, pages & pages will be needed to fill 'em up :D

@JAFB: I know from a stupendous piece you'd written about this movie in your blog regarding your love for the movie. I haven't yet decided on the decade's top 10 for me, but it'll be painful for me if it misses out.

@Sam: Thanks a lot Sam. You really are too kind on me. Yeah, I guess 'hypnotic' would be the most apt word to use for this movie - be it cinematography, the long takes, score, the atmosphere, pacing, the locale, or even the narrative. A great achievement for Tarr indeed.