Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Béla Tarr|
|Produced by||Béla Tarr|
|Screenplay by||László Krasznahorkai
|Based on||The Melancholy of Resistance
by László Krasznahorkai
|Music by||Mihály Vig|
|Cinematography||Patrick de Ranter|
|Editing by||Ágnes Hranitzky|
|Running time||145 minutes|
Werckmeister Harmonies (pronounced [verkˈmaɪ̯stɐ]; Hungarian: Werckmeister harmóniák) is a 2000 Hungarian film directed by Béla Tarr, based on the 1989 novel The Melancholy of Resistance by László Krasznahorkai. Shot in black and white and composed of thirty-nine languidly paced shots.The film is of János and his uncle György during the Soviet occupation of Hungary at the end of the Second World War, it is of their journey through the emotions of helpless citizens as a dark circus comes to town casting an eclipse over their lives..
The title refers to the baroque musical theorist Andreas Werckmeister. György Eszter, a major character in the film, gives a monologue propounding a theory that Werckmeister's harmonic principles are responsible for aesthetic and philosophical problems in all music since, which need to be undone by a new theory of tuning and harmony.
Werckmeister Harmonies is an allegory of the post WWII Eastern European political systems told as a b&w filmmatic poem with 37 long single camera shots.
It examines the brutalisation of a society its political systems and ethics through the metaphor of a decaying circus whale and its star performer. It is set in a desolate, isolated small town in Hungary during Soviet times.
The film starts with János Valuska, a simple person, conducting a poem and dance with drunken bar patrons. The dance is of the total eclipse of the sun, which disturbs than silences the animals, but it finishes with the grand return of the warm sunlight.
One of the significant reoccurring characters in this plot is the subtle transitions between light and darkness the first appearance is a lamp in the bar then to a door into the darkness. The circus arrives like a Trojan Horse in the darkness of night. A window is opened as a glimmer of hope and dressed to shut out the world outside. The antagonist is only ever seen as a shadow.
János' uncle György is a composer, and therefore one of the intelligentsia. György observes the imperfection and compromise of the musical scale (as defined by Andreas Werckmeister a historical theorist). György proposes changes to the scale to make it more harmonious. György’s utopian approach to music represents a flawed naive idealism that never can be achieved; it is not developed any further in the film or the book. It is just a statement indicating that human governance will always be flawed.
György's estranged wife tries to leverage her political and social status by giving György a list of names to sign up for the "clean up the town movement", this with the blessing of the police chief.
However, a stuffed smelly circus whale and its star performer, Prince, comes to town in the silence and darkness of night. This is a metaphor for a bloated political system and the unseen Prince who represents the power of politically inspired, emotive dogma.
János philosophises about God and the beast.
The post office workers are unsettled by the ominous signs of the circuses arrival and are disturbed by the cloud that settles over each town it visits, a reference to the spread of the externally imposed centralised monolithic government system onto all the Soviet buffer nations just after the war.
György's struggling cobbler brother gets the list and passes it on to the agitated throbbing masses in the town square who are unhappy at public services failing.
György's former wife sleeps with the drunk gun toting police chief.
The presence of the whale and the Prince stir up the masses. János overhears the circus master losing control of his faceless Prince, who is becoming drunk with his own voice of revolutionary dogma. The circus master disowns him. The Prince, now free, inflames the masses.
The people riot.
The film is shot as a beautiful but disturbing visual poem. Long single shot scenes with a hypnotic and rhythmic pace build up to the disconnected yet peaceful observation of the thuggish destruction of the hospital and its patients. The rioters are brutal. Their inhumanity almost seems normal and natural. When the rioters finally come to beat a helpless old naked patient, they see their impotent, sad and powerless selves. The patients they are destroying in the hospital are themselves.
After the riot, János comes across the diary of a rioter. It explains that the rioters did not know what they were angry with; so they were angry at everything. Then it recounts the mobs horrendous rape of two working class post office girls.
János comes across his killed cobbler uncle who got naively involved in the riot. János is told, by his cobbler uncle's wife, to leave town for his own safety.
He is intercepted by a helicopter. He finds himself committed to a mental institution with caged beds (a tool of the time for dealing with political dissidents). János appears drugged and broken.
György, his composer uncle, is evicted from their society house but gets to live in a shed in the garden whilst György's former wife, with her new status as a collaborator, now occupies the big house with the police chief. The intelligentsia is displaced by political opportunism.
György tells a vacant János, in the ward, that if he is released from the mental institution they can live contentedly together in the shed with his piano. János just stares.
It finishes with György looking directly into the eye of the whale, then, walking away and looking back at the now sad and disheveled whale, destroyed by the rioters the night before, its rotting carcass slowly enveloped by the fog which gets whiter and brighter. Warm bright sunlight returns.
Werckmeister Harmonies has received critical acclaim. At Metacritic, the film received an average score of 92/100, based on 8 reviews, which indicates "Universal acclaim". Based on 30 reviews, Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 97% rating, with an average score of 8.3/10.
Film critic Roger Ebert described the film as "unique and original", and it "feels as much like cinema verite as the works of Frederick Wiseman." He went on to add the film to his "Great Movies" collection. 
- Werckmeister Harmonies at the Internet Movie Database
- Werckmeister Harmonies at Rotten Tomatoes
- Werckmeister Harmonies at AllMovie