Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Apparently this film contains 39 shots in 145 minutes (with or without credits?) for an average shot length approaching 4 minutes. The average shot length of a Hollywood film is probably more like 4 seconds. Yikes. I don’t know why, but even though it’s markedly longer than Damnation and pushes the long take style even further, and though the narrative is rather more abstruse too, I found myself liking Werckmeister a lot more. When I first read about it, it sounded almost like a joke… you know, two and a half hour black and white film in Hungarian about a circus passing through an unnamed town where the only exhibits are an unseen “prince” and a very large and notably dead whale… if the film weren’t actually real, you’d swear someone had made that up to parody European art cinema at its most ponderous and humourless. Which the film is, in a lot of ways, but there’s more to it than the description suggests, cos the presence of the circus draws loads of people from outside of town, there’s paranoia and violence, and lurking in the background is a new movement for the restoration of law and order. It’s hard to actually say just what happens or why it does, but for some reason I found it less remote than Damnation and the amazing scene of the hospital rampage fully justified the long take aesthetic (although the lack of dialogue also contributes to the scene’s power); it would’ve been an entirely different scene had it been shot and edited conventionally. Tarr’s most successful at conjuring up a particular mood, though, that hovers between “normal” realism and magical realism, an atmosphere of impending doom and evil that borders on the Lovecraftian at times (I was reminded of “Nyarlathotep” particularly for some reason). I must say, after initially thinking there was something kind of parodic about the film’s set-up, I can understand why it draws so many “masterpiece” claims: it actually is that impressive.

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2 thoughts on “Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

  1. Tyler November 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I have been wanting to see this for ages, but Bela Tarr’s SATANTANGO is at the top of my watchlist. I haven’t seen any of his films but he sounds like exactly the kind of director I love.

  2. James R. November 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Yeah, I definitely want to check out Satantango as well. I’ve also got The Man From London to watch as well.

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