Film Review
By Nelhydrea Paupér




Harmonica Meistersinger:

Werckmeister Harmonies

…Béla Tarr’s thirty-nine cuts.

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Werckmeister Harmonies / Werckmeister harmóniák

2000—145 minutes
Directed by Béla Tarr with Ágnes Hranitzky. Written by László Krasznahorkai.
With Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla.

Review by Nelhydrea Paupér


    Many years ago I had an affair with a Hungarian woman. She was quite strikingly beautiful and filled with the allure of brooding darkness and confusion. She also, I must say, had a delicious pussy.
    Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies is also Hungarian, also quite beautiful to look at and also filled with brooding darkness and confusion. I did not, however, care for the taste of its pussy.
    Ponderous to an almost absurd degree, Tarr’s film is still hard to dismiss: there are many aspects of it that stand out as exceptional. Gorgeously photographed, it’s filled with long, slow single-takes that go on and on for many minutes, any one of which would stand out as masterful if taken on its own. But when thrown on top of each other, one after the other, the scenes begin to feel like an auteurist version of the actor who approaches a scene of anger by starting out screaming at the top of his lungs. In a few moments he has nowhere to go, no ability to change the dynamics. He just keeps screaming.
    Tarr’s film is like a cinematic inversion of that choice. From the opening shot onward there are so many long, “uneventful” (but meaningful) single-take shots that it begins to seem as if he is consciously trying to take on Welles and Ophüls and, most obviously, Tarkovsky. It’s one-upmanship as aesthetic. After a while these shots become little more than stunts and, beautiful as each of them may be, they lose their impact with each successive one.
    It’s a shame because, Lord knows, we need more slow, beautiful, ponderous films (or at least films to ponder). I’m usually a sucker for that stuff. But this didn’t click for me—maybe it was the heavily symbolic shifting from light to dark, or maybe it was the heavily-symbolic whale that arrives in town and causes much consternation, or maybe it was the wildly out of whack post-synch job that rivals any spaghetti western with its distracting lip movement. Perhaps it was even something as minor as seeing Hannah Schygulla, an object of universal lust back in the late ‘70s, looking so horribly, nightmarishly old and fat.
    But maybe it was just this—Werckmeister Harmonies is worth seeing, especially for anyone who is aching to view any new film that is steeped in classical cinema, a film willing to risk losing viewers by remaining true to it’s creator’s relentlessly iconoclastic vision. But it does not make that film anything more than a sometimes interesting affair—an affair that grows tiresome as it slowly, slowly unfolds.