Bela Tarr’s “Werckmeister Harmonies” (2000) is annoying if you don’t sympathize with her, charming if you do. If you don’t come out after 20 or 30 minutes, you won’t be able to get out of your seat. “Dreams,” Jim Jarmusch called it. Nightmares too; full of doom, full of silence and sorrow, with a terrible feeling that evil is permeating his dreary little town. Elegantly filmed in black and white, camera movement is so majestic that it almost drifts through just 39 shots in the 145-minute film.
To know where we stand when the film begins, we must start with director Tarr’s words: “I hate stories, because they mislead people into believing that something has happened. In fact, nothing really happens when we run away from it.” one condition. to another… All that remains is time. This is probably the only thing that is still genuine — time itself; years, days, hours, minutes and seconds.”
And what is that time apart from our agreement to divide one rotation of the earth around the sun into units? Could there be hours, minutes, seconds, on our yearless planet? Why does one earth second need to exist except as part of one earth year? Perhaps such questions lead us into the incredible, funny and ingenious 11-minute shot at the beginning of the picture.
It’s late winter, almost closing time in a shabby pub. A solar eclipse is about to arrive, and Janos (Lars Rudolph), the local paper carrier, takes it upon himself to explain what will happen in the sky. He pushed furniture against the wall, and asked a drunkard to stand in the middle of the floor and wave his hands, like sunshine. Then he got another friend to be the earth, and walked in circles around the sun. And then the third is the moon, walking in its own circle around the earth. All these circles staggered, the drunkards turned, and then the moon appeared between the sun and the earth, and there was an eclipse: “The sky was darkened, and then it was pitch black,” said Janos. “The dogs howled, the rabbits bowed, the deer ran frantically, ran, trampled in fear. And in this terrible and incomprehensible twilight, even the birds … the birds were also confused and went to roost. And then … total silence. Everything that lives is silent. Will the hills line up? Will heaven fall on us?”
Janos continued, and the others listened in bewilderment, because in their village at this hour there was nowhere else to go, nothing to do. And now I’ve got you through the first 11 minutes of your 20 or 30 minute test, and you certainly haven’t left. The pub owner announced closing time and threw everything away, and Janos went to the newspaper office to pick up his newspaper. There, and in a hotel that was his first stop, he began to hear alarming rumors, almost Shakespearean omens, that all was wrong in heaven and earth, that a circus was coming to town with a huge stuffed whale and “Prince, ‘ who has the power of darkness. The whole family has started to disappear…
The circus truck shots that come haunting. It appeared for a long time as a large square shadow on the front of the house. I remember the image of the monster in “The Third Man” who turned out to be just a balloon seller. Then the headlights. Then the truck itself, really big, gigantic, big enough to hold, well, a whale. Its full length passed Janos as he stood up and gave a greeting.
Janos is well-liked in town. “How’s our Janos?” he asked. She receives a visit from Aunt Tunde (Hanna Schygulla), who insists she visit her estranged husband, Uncle Gyorgy (Peter Fitz) and ask him to lead the townspeople against an unnamed but imminent threat. He gave her a suitcase to carry, a case that was never opened or explained. Uncle Gyorgy was a musicologist who believed the world was wrong when Andreas Werckmeister (1645-1706) popularized the harmonic system clashing with celestial music. Janos and Gyorgy made their way to the town square, both held in the frame for a very long time, until they came upon a horde of people hunched over coldly around a truck filled with whales. Then, when Janos bought his ticket and went inside, he saw the whale’s huge, lifeless eyes.
Bela Tarr (born 1955), is a Hungarian director who is more talked about than seen, partly because few audiences were interested, and few theaters had time to show his films such as “Satango” (1994), which was 415 minutes long. . In all my time on the festival circuit, I hadn’t seen any of his films until this one, which I got on DVD through Facets Multimedia of Chicago. When you’re at a festival and seeing one film means missing the other four, you tend to take the path of least resistance. But the name Tarr continued to swim reproachfully into my eyes, even in the book 1001 Movies You Should See Before You Die, where I proudly vetted film after film until I came to… Bela Tarr.
And now I find that Tarr does make films that are unique and original, and in a style that I find beautiful. I prefer pure black and white over color, I like very long time when they have a purpose and not just action, I am drawn into an atmosphere of mystery, I find it interesting when a film sets an immediate, real time and place. For all its fantasy themes, “Werckmeister Harmonies” is incredibly realistic. Every person, every room, every street, every action, every line of dialogue, feels like a real cinema like the works of Frederick Wiseman.