Sunday, June 22, 2008

Werckmeister Harmonies (Werckmeister Harmoniak) A Film by Bela Tarr (2000)

I saw this film for the first time this weekend on April 5th, 2008. It is Hungarian director Bela Tarr's seventh feature film. By the end of the credits, I was absolutely speechless; it was one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen and certainly one of the most contemplative. Tarr has always had an unconventional approach to filmmaking, and a strong belief in the dreamlike possibilities in cinema. This film is proof of that. A master of slow-take cinema, the film involves only 37 shots over a span of 2 and a half hours. Most shots reflect his use of camera as a passive observer in the action, creeping slowly around the austere Hungarian setting that the film ostensibly takes place. An early film by Tarr, Macbeth, adapted from Shakespeare's play, is an hour and a half long and contains only 2 shots. Each shot does not come off as useless however, due to the fact that the composition is beautifully planned and symbolism is layered through each frame of film.

Although Tarr dismisses the fact that there is any allegorical meaning in his films, it is tough not to attempt to interpret the perfectly complex yet seemingly simplistic plot of Werckmeister Harmonies. The film revolves around a Hungarian town that is rumored to be on the verge of apocalypse. In the midst of this chaos there is Janos, who watches the events unfold through his wanderings in the frost-bitten town. A circus comes to town boasting to have the world's largest dead whale, and includes the mysterious "Prince". This is the basic plot-line but Tarr gives you loads of symbolic gum to chew on. The most astounding accomplishment of the film is the fact that Tarr finds beauty in such a nightmarish atmosphere. The music by Mihaly Vig is heartbreakingly gorgeous, as well as the cinematography. I recommend this film to anyone prepared for something demanding and unique.