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Werckmeister Harmonies (2001)

Werckmeister Harmonies

TOMATOMETER

Average Rating: 8.5/10
Reviews Counted: 39
Fresh: 38
Rotten: 1

Critics Consensus: Mesmerizingly lovely and thematically thought-provoking, Werckmeister Harmonies adds another indelible achievement to Bela Tarr's fascinating filmography.

Average Rating: 8.4/10
Reviews Counted: 11
Fresh: 11
Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Mesmerizingly lovely and thematically thought-provoking, Werckmeister Harmonies adds another indelible achievement to Bela Tarr's fascinating filmography.

AUDIENCE SCORE

Average Rating: 4.4/5
User Ratings: 4,517

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Movie Info

Bela Tarr follows up on his seven-hour epic Satantango, considered by some critics as one of the finest films of the 1990s, with this elegant, haunting work about the cycles of violence that have dogged Eastern European history. Jancos (Lars Rudolph) is a wide-eyed innocent who works as an occasional postal worker and as a caretaker for Mr. Ezster (Peter Fitz). An outsider and a visionary, he marvels at the miracles of creation, from the planets rotating in the heavens to the sundry animals on … More

Rating:
Unrated
Genre:
Drama , Horror , Art House & International
Directed By:
,
Written By:
Péter Dobai , Bela Tarr , László Krasznahorkai
In Theaters:
On DVD:
Feb 28, 2006
Runtime:
Menemsha


Cast


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Critic Reviews for Werckmeister Harmonies

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (1) | DVD (3)

As wearying as the film becomes in its long, bleak sequences, its uniquely cinematic and emotion-charged experience makes the effort worthwhile.

Full Review… | May 21, 2014
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Six years after the 7-1/2-hour Satan's Tango, Magyar maverick Bela Tarr makes a stunning feature return with "Werckmeister Harmonies," another hypnotic meditation on popular demagogy and mental manipulation that's a snap at 145 minutes.

Full Review… | October 5, 2007
Variety
Top Critic

Bela Tarr's style seems to be an attempt to regard his characters with great intensity and respect, to observe them without jostling them, to follow unobtrusively as they move through their worlds, which look so ordinary and are so awesome, like ours.

Full Review… | September 14, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

A chilling, mesmerizing, intense account of ethnic cleansing (in spirit if not in letter) from Hungarian master Bela Tarr.

Full Review… | September 14, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Over two hours and 20 minutes, not much actually happens, and Tarr creates a mood so lulling that even the rare scenes of dialogue can be hard to follow. But Werckmeister's standout moments are searing like few others in film history.

Full Review… | March 11, 2006
AV Club
Top Critic

Weird, wonderful, witty and unsettling.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Densely symbolic, yet never inaccessible, this is artistically unique and overwhelmingly powerful.

Full Review… | May 21, 2014
Radio Times

This is as challenging as movies come, alluding to everything from philosopher Thomas Hobbes to the history of Western music. But compared with Tarr's legendary Sátantángo... it's almost a quickie.

Full Review… | May 21, 2014
Christian Science Monitor

Whatever your response, there's no doubting the technical brilliance of one extended sequence, as a mob rampages through a hospital before being halted by an unexpected vision. Astonishing.

Full Review… | May 21, 2014
Total Film

A mesmerizing eulogy to the waning days of artistic beauty and free speech, and not to be missed.

Full Review… | May 21, 2014
SF Weekly

The thing is, and this is easy to lose sight of in conversations about tracking shots and pointedly empty acting and symbolic cetaceans, [this] is an extraordinarily pleasurable experience to watch.

Full Review… | March 31, 2014
Antagony & Ecstasy

... it is difficult not to be moved by the whale carcass, just as later, a naked old man discovered standing in a hospital bath finally quells the rioting - both symbols of man facing his mortality.

Full Review… | February 28, 2012
Reeling Reviews

Here cosmos and chaos, action and reaction, hope and despair, love and anger, all bump and grind together in a Satanic tango

Full Review… | May 14, 2009
Eye for Film

It's shot in static or very slow-moving long-takes; the monochrome images are deliberately oppressive; the pace would strike the organisers of a state funeral as excessively slow.

Full Review… | September 14, 2007
Observer [UK]

Limited appeal, a slow pace, a demanding film; but as interesting a work of art as the best of films

Full Review… | April 14, 2006
Movie Habit

Operatic.

Full Review… | March 28, 2006
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

A film that encourages one to put on their thinking cap.

Full Review… | March 17, 2006
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

dares to say the apocalypse has a startling, bleak beauty all its own.

Full Review… | March 14, 2006
Filmcritic.com

It is an arduous task, but the film achieves a transcendent and ethereal beauty that only the few truly great masterpieces attain.

Full Review… | April 23, 2005

For once, understanding is less important than experiencing.

Full Review… | July 8, 2003
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for Werckmeister Harmonies

A small town. A drunk room; a rather dreary bar with two big lights hanging from the ceiling. Village simpletons falling all over the floor with an overdose of drinks. "You tubs of beer"..the bartender calls them! At closing time, a wide-eyed, gaunt, but seemingly popular young man walks in. He is Janos Valuska (Lars Rudolph). He uses the drunks at the bar as props and demonstrates the Solar Eclipse and the effects of this phenomenon on the behavior of the mortal beings of the earth. The scene lasts for the first 10-12 minutes and ends with a melancholic, haunting score by Mihaly Vig. This single scene is so beautiful, it sets the tone for what's to come.

There is a shroud of ambiguity over Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's "Werckmeister Harmonies" (co-directed by Ágnes Hranitzky). There is communication that is very vague. Things are spoken about something bad that happened before and something terrible that's perhaps about to happen. And in some towns, they say it has already begun. Is it the advent of the apocalypse?

[img]https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-YP8w1KUIMss/T7OwVbVZCLI/AAAAAAAACj0/3za38A93En8/s736/vlcsnap-2012-05-16-19h01m45s121.jpg[/img]

At the center of this mystery is a stuffed giant whale, a part of a "circus" that has arrived in town. This circus also features the enigmatic "Prince". With the coming of the whale and the Prince there is suddenly a 'lack of harmony' within the quietude of the town. Foreigners have started encroaching. There are stories that they have started rioting and looting. The whale is perhaps the reason. Most people seem to regard the whale as an abomination. Only Janos sees it as a bounty of nature, a miracle of God...Janos is clearly an optimist. Or is it the Prince who is behind all the turbulence? There are all kinds of stories. The dead whale and the Prince are somehow responsible for creating ripples in the otherwise still waters of the quiet little town. They have already spread their wings on other parts of the country. But are all these just urban legends?

[img]https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-qgbBO9FTljo/T7OwahuqMuI/AAAAAAAACkQ/fnhcbIbD_Cc/s736/vlcsnap-2012-05-16-19h12m11s194.jpg[/img]

One of the main characters, György Eszter (Peter Fitz), speaks about how the musical intervals and harmonies as we know them over the centuries are "false" and the result of a huge scandal brought about by a certain Andreas Werckmeister. The title alludes to the harmonies or lack thereof owing to some funny business brought about by Werckmeister as a result of an "unhinged arrogance" that wished to take possession of the natural harmonies of the Gods! This one scene and the philosophy within has a strong connection with the overall theme of the film...lack of harmony and how it is brought about!

Eszter's former wife Aunt Tunde (Hanna Schygulla) has an agenda of her own...she is out to initiate a "clean town" project with the help of her current lover, the Police Chief, for which she needs her former husband's help. "Our Janos" (as he is referred to by all townsfolk who like him) is entrusted the task of convincing Eszter to use his command and popularity to get support of the movement. Eszter reluctantly agrees. "I've paid for it and I may pay for it all my life", he says. But what exactly? Tarr doesn't think that is important. We never get to know. He clearly loves ambiguity.

[img]https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-KWFBP-5MgLo/T7OwXKGW4CI/AAAAAAAACkE/P0SiQJjZyhE/s736/vlcsnap-2012-05-16-19h13m04s252.jpg[/img]

Tarr also loves extremely long takes, stark Black and White cinematography (beautiful at that), a somber mood, melancholic score, a languorous pace, bleak imagery and an overall sense of doom and despair. There are long philosophical monologues which are almost poetic and need to be heard at least twice to grasp. There is a distinct "meditative" feel to the proceedings. It is not difficult to spot the heavy Andrei Tarkovsky influence here, just as in other films of his. But Tarr's pictures are less abstract than those of the great Russian filmmaker. "Werckmeister Harmonies" is mostly materialism heavy but there certainly is some symbolism embedded in the narrative. The "Prince" who travels with the whale, for example, is a mysterious faceless creature who seems to have immense powers. A clock that was dead for years started ticking again as he went past! And he apparently also incites rioting. He doesn't believe in any greater power or authority either. Is he then the "Prince of darkness" with a thirst for destruction?

[img]https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-5jY0wh9kkj8/T7OwVkOY7cI/AAAAAAAACj4/bgOUAwduCoU/s736/vlcsnap-2012-05-16-19h06m38s231.jpg[/img]

Tarr demonstrates his ability to create a powerful impact through the marriage of visuals and sound. On one hand there is the scene in which Vig's soulful music accompanies, like Janos appreciating the whale and being awestruck by its enormity. And then there is the scene in a newspaper factory. Long monologues and ambient sounds serve as a background to Janos' mundane activities being filmed, and later the camera slowly pans to the person delivering the monologue! Then, of the several long tracking shots, a particular shot of Janos and Eszter walking adjacent to each other in an almost synchronized march of their feet (with only the sound of their feet and a lunch box providing the sound...carrying on for a good 2-3 minutes!) can't help but bring a smile on your face. Apparently, for one other scene, in which a lot of people are marching together to reach a destination, Tarr was asked why the scene is that long. Tarr simply answered "that's how long it took to get there!"

"Werckmeister Harmonies", like any other Bela Tarr film, is surely not for the impatient viewer. It is for that segment of film lovers who love their films grave; and who don't mind the scenes playing out real time, with the editing process being allowed to take the back seat as long as the final product delivers. Suffice to say, Tarr manages to engulf the viewer under his spell and guarantees a hypnotic audiovisual experience, one that culminates into a powerful ending that leaves a lasting impact....

Score: 10/10.

[img]https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-YEMl6Znggl4/T7OwcglfYZI/AAAAAAAACkY/Z7NG_AjGZuA/s736/vlcsnap-2012-05-16-19h18m04s180.jpg[/img]

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Aditya Gokhale
Aditya Gokhale

Super Reviewer

½

Fantastic begining, great ending & interesting thought-provoking concept, but overlong movie with overlong sequences

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arashxak
Arash Xak

Super Reviewer

You Europeans can pretend to like this shit all you want but you are not fooling me, no sir.

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ceWEBrity
Drew Smith

Super Reviewer

I am in total awe with this movie. Total awe. A decadent, surreal, introspective masterpiece. Words can not even begin to describe how fully affected I was by this movie. The directing was fucking incredible - every single second of every single frame was filled with purpose, the director had a tendency of staying with a scene for minutes, even, after a main character leaves the frame, no matter how minimal the action, that I found ingenious. The director was not afraid to get as close as possible to show the beauty in every human face, no matter how imperfect, and to stay with his characters' movement. No matter how repetitive, these shots always worked, especially when the actors filled the pregnant silence with their expressions or just mere presence. There were so many incredible shots, all of them more than notable. I also loved how the camera was almost constantly in movement, there were few completely still shots. The actors were brilliant, especially the lead - he had a quiet, intense dignity reminiscent of someone like Klaus Kinski that fascinated me. The story was surreal and so bloody potent, the final shot had me in tears not from any particular emotional drag but from the mere beauty of it and the power of what I had just witnessed. By all means, this is not for everyone, it requires a lot of patience. This is not just entertainment, this is a film that absolutely requires you to think about what you are viewing and ask questions, even if they aren't answered right away. But it is the most amazing film I have seen in quite some time, and has instantly become a favourite.

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drago25
Christopher Mercer

Super Reviewer

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