Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Directed by Béla Tarr
Late one evening in a tavern, in a cold and bleak village somewhere in Hungary, János (Lars Rudolph), an innocent, angelic newspaper deliveryman, orchestrates a dance of drunks to illustrate a lunar eclipse. In one unbroken eleven-minute shot, the first of the film, the camera zooms, dips, spins, and phantasmically floats around the tango. One boozer stands in the center of the room, arms raised, fingers merrily wiggling as to represent the sun, while another sot, Earth, spins in circles while revolving around the sun, while yet another, the moon, spins in similar, albeit sloppy fashion around the Earth. As the cosmos align, János pauses the action to proclaim that at this moment, everything goes black, the animals are frightened, and darkness and terror ensue. Indeed, it surely does.
Based on the novel The Melancholy of Resistance by Tarr collaborator László Krasznahorkai, who frequently employs very long sentences, sometimes even composing a book in one single sentence, Werckmeister Harmonies, comprised of just 39 shots within 145 minutes, is nothing short of a mysterious apocalypse. The villagers, in a state of panicked gossip, speak of a circus arriving to town, which promises the largest stuffed whale in the world along with a bonus one-eyed prince. The arrival of the spectacle brings hoards of threatening strangers, and there is talk of looting, fires, pillaging. Soon, nobody feels safe, and the magmatic tension escalates to a portentous climax of violence. Essentially the prince, whose followers are “to make ruins of everything,” is a symbol of oppressive malevolence, as he proclaims from the back of a seedy office room, “Fury overcomes all!” Yes, now is the perfect time to discover or re-visit this invasive depiction of deceptive evil. Samuel T. Adams (December 26, 6pm; December 29, 3:45pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Going Steadi: 40 Years of Steadicam”)