- Werckmeister Harmonies is Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr’s seventh feature and first since his magnum opus 7+ hour masterpiece Satantango in 1994.
- The entire film is comprised of 39 shots over the course of 145 minutes
- From Ebert “if you’re one of David Bordwell’s ASL collectors: 3.7 minutes, as compared to, say, “The Bourne Supremacy” at 1.9 seconds”- Ebert quotes Tarr saying “I despite stories” – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/werckmeister-harmonies-2000 and
Tarr picks up right where he left off- maybe even stronger- with a nearly 11-minute shot. Lars Rudolph play János. János enters a bar as it is about to close. He explains the solar system (the interest here is again in the Doctor in Satantango), using the drunks as models for the son, earth, and moon. He then talks about the lunar eclipse—all of this is while Tarr’s camera is really dancing with the captivating monologue as he pushes around the soused rabble. Tarr drops in the haunting piano score (as he’d do throughout the film at key points).
The second shot is a stunning János walking down a long road at night to an effervescent light. This is how the film progresses. It is almost easier to mention the shots (out of a total of 39) that aren’t impressive.
- Like Dreyer in Ordet, Jarmusch in Stranger Than Paradise, or the work of Roy Andersson, each edit is really the end of the scene. Tarr doesn’t like to cut within the scene. And unlike the three of these examples, Tarr’s camera is constantly moving.
At the 20-minute mark the nightmarish circus is coming to town… ominous… and Rudolph’s head is in the upper right of the frame as the caravan goes by in a great frame
The still frame photography may not quite be on the level of Satantango—but screengrabs don’t do justice to what Tarr is able to do moving the camera. There may be films from the 2000’s decade equal to Tarr (Children of Men is really the main one that comes to mind currently) moving the camera—but none surpass Werckmeister Harmonies. This puts it on the short-list of the all-time greats in this category as well. I mean even the scene when the intellectual, philosophizing Uncle (Peter Fitz as György Eszter) speaks, Tarr swirls the camera around his head (like a De Palma shot) and then hovers around the room picking up Rudolph’s movement again as he enters and exits.
- It sounds hokey calling the camera itself ethereal, but it does seem to float in a spiritual, mythic way that fits the setting. Maybe Wim Wenders Wings of Desire is a cousin in this respect.
- Rudolph’s János is just about as sympathetic a character I can remember in a Tarr film, and I get a laugh out of everyone in the village seeming like he’s János’s uncle or aunt
Tarr’s camera angling is almost always at a high angle getting the streets and ground — like Tarkovsky– a great shot here as Janus and his Uncle part ways
The piano cues in again while János is mesmerized by the whale. The music, the elongated, unhurried stalking shot, and Rudolph’s clear amazement of the whale comes across – it is transferrable to you the viewer.
Fassbinder’s former muse Hanna Schygulla (The Marriage of Maria Braun among other solid works) is here as his aunt, a gorgeous grayscale series of moving picture photographs as she dances in the doorway at 82-minutes
- Again, stretched tracking shots (the average shot length may be longer than Satantango) with Tarr’s wandering camera through the town square while the mob has a bonfire going. An apocalyptic tenor, dread pervades the entire film
- The glowing white light in the distance in the background again as the mob, a massive crowd (giving this true scale) moves.
- It is important to remember that this is 1/3 the length of Satantango. There are still chunks of unabridged realism – like watching János rip the bread up and put it in his soup, but not quite on the level of the 1994 epic
At the 102-minute mark there is a 7 ½ minute shot where the men from the mob riot and destroy what looks like a hospital. Tarr’s floating camera weaves in and out, peeking into rooms while the chaos spins around. It is a jaw-dropping cinematic moment. It feels like the guerrilla scene in Cuaron’s Roma. This shot and the opening are two transcendent scenes. The rioters here encounter an old naked man- a mythic being—they all stop, and file out—astonishing.
- cryptic, the Prince is only shown in silhouette and through an interpreter
- Portentous helicopter – the film is religious and political
- János ends up in an eerie but beautiful all bleached mental hospital- Tarr’s camera pulls back gracefully, and then he ends washing out the whale with a fog
- A masterpiece
Hello Drake, loved this piece and and it’s only made me more excited to delve into Bela Tarr’s filmography over the summer. I know this is a weird place for this question but I just wanted to ask you whether or not you’re voting in the TSPDT Poll and if you are what’s on your ballot and whether you’re just choosing to go for your top 25 or films you feel are severely underrated and should have a place on the list.
Here’s mine, https://letterboxd.com/balalkhan/list/top-25/.
I just chose personal favourites.
@Balal- thank you for the comment here and the kind words. I do not vote for the TSPDT list. You have a great top 25 list- thanks for sharing!
They are not referring to the actual list itself. They are referencing a new poll TSPDT created that is open to the public. You can find it on the home page of the site or here: https://www.theyshootpictures.com/2021poll.htm
Presumably, it is not connected to the top 1000 list.
@Graham- oh gotcha, thanks for helping me out there.
Here are my votes! Again this list isn’t necessarily my 25 best films of all time, but it probably is my 25 favorite films of all time. I was killing myself over not being able to put Blade Runner, Brazil, Magnolia or Red Desert, among others, on this list.
Lol. Forgot to actually post the link: https://boxd.it/bM0PONone
It’s a good thing we can still change our list on TSPDT, just in case I, for example, decide to make the list one film per director or something and sub in Rome, Open City for Psycho. But I think I’ll keep it like this.
@Zane- this link isn’t working, at least for me
The same for me.
That’s very strange. How about this one? https://boxd.it/bM0PO
And if that doesn’t work then try this: https://letterboxd.com/cyrusthegreat/list/favorite-25-films-of-all-time/
@Zane- this works! what a collection. I love that both you and Balal have Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
Thanks! I’ve been thinking of submitting a different list to TSPDT of films that I think are incredibly underrated (some films on my list there would be included), since I still have another month-and-a-half to decide.
And I love Greenaway’s film! It’s so amazing. It might be the single best use of color in cinema.
After some thought I’ve replaced Le Samourai with The Graduate. Damn, it’s so hard to pick ONLY 25 of your favorite films. I’d probably be at over 100 if we could pick as many as we want haha.
I did like this film a lot, I loved the cinematography and especially the way the camera moved as you mentioned. But I still gotta ask, what was it about? I don’t think I even understood the main story, and a lot of scenes felt really disconnected from one another. It still had an emotional impact on me-especially with the beautiful piano soundtrack-but I was really confused the whole time with the main plot. I wanted to love it, but I simply ended up liking it because I couldn’t make any sense of the story, or whether there was any underlying message.Note: This is the only Bela Tarr movie I’ve watched so far, so if it has to do with his style then I’m not familiar with it.
@Hooah- this is definitely Bela Tarr- these do it justice I think https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0249241/plotsummary?ref_=tt_stry_pl
and on one of the Tarr pages I posted this- maybe not WH though –
“I don’t care about stories. I never did. Every story is the same. We have no new stories. We’re just repeating the same ones. I really don’t think, when you do a movie that you have to think about the story. The film isn’t the story. It’s mostly picture, sound, a lot of emotions. The stories are just covering something. With “Damnation,” for example, if you’re a Hollywood studio professional, you could tell this story in 20 minutes. It’s simple. Why did I take so long? Because I didn’t want to show you the story. I wanted to show this man’s life.” – Béla Tarr (indieWIRE Interview, 2012)