The opening scene of Werckmeister Harmonies must be one of the most engaging and wonderful ever made. This apparent setting of the tone and the way subsequent events unfold make us very grateful we knew nothing about this film before we sat down to watch it. The experience was… incredible. How wonderful to be surprised and enthralled by a brilliantly-made film!
Werckmeister Harmonies is set in a freezing provincial town somewhere on the Great Hungarian Plain. It is director Béla Tarr’s rendition of László Krasznahorkai’s 1989 novel, “The Melancholy of Resistance”. Tarr’s life-partner, Ágnes Hranitzky, co-directs and edits.
Peppered throughout the film are profoundly moving, indelible vignettes. Some of these mark subtle yet critical points in the story which signal major developments. The stillness which accompanies such moments is palpable; the pacing and acting perfect.
Filmed in high-contrast black and white, and clocking in at 2 hrs 25 min, this art house drama comprises just 39 unhurried long takes. This approach allows Tarr the opportunity to capture the mood of each scene perfectly. And each scene has its own mood; the long takes are not a reflection that the storyline is creeping along – big changes are afoot.
All of these long unbroken takes are superb, yet some are outstanding. Such as when the protagonist weaves his way through a crowd, the camera following him for some time, then cutting its own path, then effortlessly finding the actor again.
The breathing space given by such an unhurried cinematic technique allows viewers the time to immerse themselves in the thoughts of the characters as they ponder their predicaments. It allows the drama to build up effectively because we also have the opportunity to study the possible ramifications of the latest events.
It is a shame that a slow-paced and long film such as Werckmeister Harmonies has such limited appeal to worldwide audiences. But so it is. Thank goodness some of us have the patience to savour such delicacies as this one. Thank goodness films like these have been and are still being made.
As always, we recommend you don’t ruin any surprises by reading spoilers or watching trailers. However, if you want to watch the whole story unfold in 2 min 20 sec, be our guest:
Title: Werckmeister Harmóniák (2000)
Language: Hungarian, Slovak
Direction: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
Screenplay: László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr
Cinematography: Patrick de Ranter
Editing: Ágnes Hranitzky
Score: Mihály Vig
Stars: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla
Harmoniak Bela Agnes Laszlo Mihaly