Werckmeister Harmonies

Critics Consensus

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



Total Count: 40


Audience Score

User Ratings: 4,772
User image

Werckmeister Harmonies Photos

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 earth. One day, a circus featuring jars full of medical anomalies and a massive dead whale entombed in a corrugated metal trailer visits Jancos' economically depressed village. Another more sinister attraction is a shadowy figure dubbed "The Prince," whose nihilist rants incite the town's disaffected to riot. Not long afterwards, Mrs. Ezster (Hanna Schygulla) cajoles her estranged husband to join a citizen's action group against the circus, threatening to move back into his house if he doesn't play along. Tension in the town builds until, after one of The Prince's hate-filled speeches, throngs of angry men with blunt instruments ransack and brutalize a men's hospital ward. When the dust clears, lives are irrevocably changed. This film was screened at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival. ~ Jonathan Crow, Rovi


Critic Reviews for Werckmeister Harmonies

All Critics (40) | Top Critics (13)

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

    May 21, 2014 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Oct 5, 2007 | Full Review…

    Derek Elley

    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.

    Sep 14, 2007 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • A chilling, mesmerizing, intense account of ethnic cleansing (in spirit if not in letter) from Hungarian master Bela Tarr.

    Sep 14, 2007 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Mar 11, 2006 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

    Noel Murray

    AV Club
    Top Critic
  • Weird, wonderful, witty and unsettling.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Werckmeister Harmonies

  • Jul 12, 2015
    Bela Tárr reaches the point of formal perfection with this spellbinding allegory about foreign occupation composed of 39 masterful long takes, a thematically thought-provoking film that is more well structured than his previous works and has a wonderful score by Mihály Víg.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 12, 2012
    Approaching my first Bela Tarr film was an intimidating task. So much mystique and highbrow acclaim is attached to his work, and he's one of those directors whose name is habitually dropped by pretentious cineastes straining to impress. "Werckmeister Harmonies" is doubly daunting, due to its heady title and all the belabored dissection of its long takes (just 39 shots in 225 minutes, or so the legend goes). But fear not -- the film isn't quite the agonizing epic one expects. It's slow, sure, but let's call it Wim Wenders-slow, not Andrei Tarkovsky-slow. The script is light on dialogue, so much of the labor involves just following character movement. No problem, especially if you're comfortable watching the silent classics. "Werckmeister" is as much about mood and cinematography as its story, and the scenario isn't particularly elaborate. Janos (Lars Rudolph) lives in a small, poor Hungarian town. He apparently is viewed as some sort of eccentric philosopher, given his opening barroom demonstration of planetary movement (at 10 minutes, it's perhaps the single longest shot). His peers have been locked into resigned misery but become freshly agitated with the arrival of a traveling sideshow. A road-worn trailer carries its two main attractions: a rabble-rousing political figure known as "The Prince" and the semi-preserved corpse of a large whale. Mysteriously, Janos seems to be the only person who buys a ticket to see the whale. The others mull about the trailer but do not approach. This and other variables faintly suggest a rejected Christ figure, but perhaps I'm overanalyzing. In any case, the rhetoric of the unseen "Prince" (devil?) causes an uproar among the people, who turn to Janos's uncle Gyorgy (Peter Fitz) for leadership. Gyorgy's estranged wife Tunde (former Fassbinder icon Hanna Schygulla) spearheads this pressure. But reluctant Gyorgy would rather spend his time gnawing on arcane issues of musical tuning -- hence the film's title. Eventually, in the most memorable sequence, the village's dissension explodes into pointless violence. Drawing a message from "Werckmeister Harmonies" is risky, particularly if (like me) you don't have much knowledge of Hungarian culture. It may be best to just soak in the rich, black-and-white imagery and shiver at the Kafka-esque atmosphere.
    Eric B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 06, 2010
    Although director Bela Tarr's approach may not appeal to a lot of viewers, I think it would be hard for a movie buff to watch this film and not respect the clarity of its vision. The extent of its originality and the power of its atmosphere are difficult to deny, and I personally thought that plot was of minimal importance in its case. There were numerous occasions throughout the course of the movie where I was completely disconnected from the plot, but I always felt consumed in its world and its mood. The staggering technical detail is something to marvel at, but I was mostly seduced by its disquieting beauty. Quite an achievement.
    Mike T Super Reviewer
  • Oct 01, 2009
    - You are the sun. The sun doesn't move, this is what it does. You are the Earth. The Earth is here for a start, and then the Earth moves around the sun. And now, we'll have an explanation that simple folks like us can also understand, about immortality. All I ask is that you step with me into the boundlessness, where constancy, quietude and peace, infinite emptiness reign. And just imagine, in this infinite sonorous silence, everywhere is an impenetrable darkness. Here, we only experience general motion, and at first, we don't notice the events that we are witnessing. The brilliant light of the sun always sheds its heat and light on that side of the Earth which is just then turned towards it. And we stand here in it's brilliance. This is the moon. The moon revolves around the Earth. What is happening? We suddenly see that the disc of the moon, the disc of the moon, on the Sun's flaming sphere, makes an indentation, and this indentation, the dark shadow, grows bigger... and bigger. And as it covers more and more, slowly only a narrow crescent of the sun remains, a dazzling crescent. And at the next moment, the next moment - say that it's around one in the afternoon - a most dramatic turn of event occurs. At that moment the air suddenly turns cold. Can you feel it? The sky darkens, then goes all dark. The dogs howl, rabbits hunch down, the deer run in panic, run, stampede in fright. And in this awful, incomprehensible dusk, even the birds... the birds too are confused and go to roost. And then... Complete Silence. Everything that lives is still. Are the hills going to march off? Will heaven fall upon us? Will the Earth open under us? We don't know. We don't know, for a total eclipse has come upon us... But... but no need to fear. It's not over. For across the sun's glowing sphere, slowly, the Moon swims away. And the sun once again bursts forth, and to the Earth slowly there comes again light, and warmth again floods the Earth. Deep emotion pierces everyone. They have escaped the weight of darkness - That's enough! Out of here, you tubs of beer! - But Mr. Hagelmayer. It's still not over.
    Director: Béla Tarr Country: Hungary Genre: Drama Length: 145 minutes
    Bela Tarr,Hungary,Werckmeister Harm
    Béla Tarr, on the way of becoming an absolute giant of cinema, on the way of portraying a strikingly gorgeous poetry, on his way of transforming real life into cinema, is back with the best film of the year: Werckmeister Harmóniák. This film is still questioning the utter meaning of existence, the outside factors that affect the stubbornness and the weakness of the human condition, and the complexity of life itself. It still possesses questions about the undeniable present reality and it still provides a wonderfully strong and cathartic feeling, not only towards an individual viewer, but towards a society... towards a mass as a whole. The harmonies still belong to the category of "the most beautiful pieces of cinema ever committed to celluloid". God is still an implicit character, perhaps the one that provides his best omnipresent performance. Reviews still do not do any deserved justice to the film. Words still cannot suffice. However, it is an undeniable fact that it is one of the best (modern) films ever made. The film references itself and references past projects of Béla Tarr, but that does not deviate the film from its purity state and from its wonderful dose of reflection. In a small Hungarian town completely surrounded by frost and with a temperature of nearly 20 degrees below zero, several people congregate around the circus tent after a very peculiar arrival: "The World's Largest Giant Whale and Other Wonders of Nature!" with a man named The Prince as its guest star. The arrival of foreigners starts to disturb the tranquility and peacefulness of the town while everybody follows the new circus sensation like mindless beings, a state of affairs that ends up in tragedy. Béla Tarr won the "Reader Jury of the "Berliner Zeitung"" award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. It was also greatly received by Hungarian Film festivals, including the Hungarian Film Critics Awards. The magic of the director's filmmaking style can be found in the fact that he may do the exact same film several times and still cause the gigantic breathtaking effect on cinema. The only aspects that really change are the plot, the characters and the length, especially since he first found his cinematographic perspective with his film Kárhozat (1987). Werckmeister Harmóniák has the peculiarity of utilizing a gigantic symbol for representing the evilness and intrinsic inner destruction of the human being: the world's largest giant whale. The similar idea is shared in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): despite our physical evolution, our primitive instincts have remained intact. Our body has acquired the anthropomorphous shape we know today, language has been created for serving our purposes, but we are still an animal race. God planned since the beginning to create us as apes. He did not give us the humanly physical and psychological characteristics we possess today. We did not choose to evolve; the nature played its role. Some other questionings arise from the aforementioned statements: how different are we now since then? Since nature plays its role however it wants it to play, is Mother Nature a positive aspect considering the evolution of the worldwide species? Did God transformed nature into a puppet so this giant whale, a being that has been submitted to an eternal suffering outside its oceanic environment, could arrive to this Hungarian town and cause such turmoil without even blinking? We can see it in The Holy Bible, we can prove it through a deep study and analysis of worldwide history: the corruptibleness of man, a feature that is instantly originated from free will, has led the human race to create an extraordinary sense of ego, overpowerment and resulting wars. Catastrophe and tragedy ensue from this whale, the mystery of a personality that calls himself "The Prince" and a sensation that has the cost of 100 forints. Unlike Sátántangó (1994), the screenplay of this film required much more underlying layers of challenging complexity. The title of the film comes from the German musician Andreas Werckmeister (1645 - 1706), a music master who is offered a tribute consisting in a long explanation and analysis of his lyrics and their possible meanings. Valuska is a humanist. He is the typical well-intentioned man who wants the best for the people around him without receiving anything in return. His idiosyncratic portrayal and his extreme saintliness, a saintliness based on his Catholicism, contrast the size of a man with the influence that the Universe executes on us, although not in a direct form. The epilogue of the film opens with a 10-minute shot of Valuska in a bar surrounded by drunk, agnostic drunk men who do not understand the current functioning of the Solar System. Naturally, Valuska uses words of wisdom and tear-inducing poetry to explain how the Moon spins around the Earth and how the Earth and the planets spin around the Sun. Intentionally or not, they are aware of their utter "insignificant significance" in this human and earthly existence, until an outside factor arrives to town. After all, how can this ambitious idea could work without portraying life as it really is? We accompany Valuska and the characters that surround him in their prolonged walks. We live with them inside their respective houses and we have supper with them. We talk with them; we are allowed to imaginarily state our personal opinions about a particular discussion they are currently having. Cinematography is still reaching an indescribable level of visual perfection and realistic amazement. The performances have an ultra-talented neorealist experience and the musical score is one of the most extraordinarily moving, beautiful, quiet, haunting, heartbreaking, inspirational, reflexive and melodramatically moving despite its constant repetitiveness. Werckmeister Harmóniák has a more reasonable length and, consequently, a more appealing narrative structure. It does not make the backgrounds of the characters to intentionally intertwine. It has one main character. It has a single story, rather than several put into one single movie. We are offered a third-person perspective. We witness the inevitable atrocities that were meant to happen without any chance of preventing it. Man is a tool for his own destruction. The women are the promoters of such perilous outcome. God is merciful, but we won't allow it. Shocking epiphanies are born throughout the film's length, and it is up to us to accept them and literally digest them. Why so much hatred, why so much pain? Violence is not the perfect measure to measure, after all. This film has achieved an almost unreachable status. Béla Tarr has established vision towards the world as a moving image, as a living painting, as colored literature, as moving sculptures. It is perfection at one of its finest forms, and it is easily one of the most patiently ambitious films ever made. Béla Tarr has restored the true meaning of cinema. Unfortunately, after he is gone, he will be finally recognized. This film lets you live without breathing, providing you with a restored heart that had been previously destroyed by an unsuccessful relationship or by the unexpected, complicated death of a rather close relative. It may save lives... 100/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer

Werckmeister Harmonies Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

News & Features