Sunday, March 12, 2017

Werckmeister Harmonies Movie Review

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
Werckmeister harmóniák

Buy Werckmeister Harmonies on Amazon
Written by: László Krasznahorkai (novel), László Krasznahorkai & Béla Tarr (screenplay), Péter Dobai & Gyuri Dósa Kiss & György Fehér (additional dialogue)
Directed by: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
Starring: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla
Rated: --/PG-13

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

A circus featuring a giant whale and a mysterious man named "The Prince" arrive at an isolated village and incite violence.

This is a film buff type movie because it's not typical by any means. Scenes start before the action and often continue after. It's in black and white and looks like a movie from the fifties. Scenes with a single character and a giant stuffed whale achieve depths that movies with two humans can't reach. It's haunting and mesmerizing, depicting a city and it's inhabitants where frustration erupts in violent fashion. We see this through the eyes of János. The movie is imbued with a tenderness, an amount of care you rarely see. The score by Mihály Vig is amazing, I couldn't help but continue listening to the main song throughout the credits and after. It's an amazing movie and I can only try to explain why.
Watch it.

You could easily convince me this movie is much older, but it's meant to look like it was filmed in the same time period it's set. It has the sensibilities of an older film, with longer scenes and a measured pace. The camerawork is impressive as the camera sweeps around rooms and streets or tracks characters walking. The slower tempo accentuates movement, providing a deeper meaning.
A few of these scenes may go on a bit long, but I'm also used to seeing the quick editing style modern movies have adapted. This flies in the face of modern convention and excels.

The town is frustrated with the failing public services, and they don't like the circus that brought a large, smelly whale. Only János is interested in the whale, marveling in the power it took to create such a thing.
One of the circus performers, "The Prince," incites violence in the town, their frustration finally boiling over given a catalyst. The inhabitants march through the town and subsequently attack a hospital. The sequence is amazing and heartbreaking. They are mad at the world and their deteriorating city and circumstances. They stop when their vulnerabilities are laid bare in the form of an old man. This violence was preceded by the police chief's petulant children. János was asked to watch them, their behavior foreshadows the town's.

The final scene is fantastic. János's friend György finally goes to see the stuffed whale, János having urged him throughout the movie. This majestic animal, albeit stuffed, is left discarded and damaged. It slowly fades out of view as György walks away.

This movie reaches for something, something I couldn't put into words at first. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to get from this, but it was moving and mesmerizing, aided by a superb score.
This whale represents hopes and dreams, but it's no longer real. It's now just a representation, a fake that stinks of rot and decay. Like the city, both are deteriorating and create violent unrest.
György walks away leaving the city and the whale broken.

I've read others interpret this as political allegory, and that's certainly a fair read. The unseen prince rides a stinking whale into town, uses it to incite the people to his will, but he's never seen. We just see his shadow as he pulls the strings. When the dawn breaks he's nowhere to be found, leaving his whale behind.

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