The film is based on the novel "The Melancholy of Resistance" by László Krasznahorkai. This story takes place in a small Hungarian provincial town in mid-winter. The event that starts to build up the atmosphere of suspicion and unrest is the arrival to town of a circus consisting of only one giant lorry containing a huge, maybe the largest in the world stuffed whale and a mysterious figure who is called the Prince, is never seen except as a shadow on a wall and who possesses the sinister powers of making people act like a mob. The circus is a challenge to the citizens to understand what its place in their small and familiar universe is. They see the circus as the dark shadow of the moon during the total eclipse that "grows bigger... and bigger. And as it covers more and more, slowly only a narrow crescent of the sun remains, a dazzling crescent. And at the next moment, the next moment - say that it's around one in the afternoon - a most dramatic turn of event occurs. At that moment the air suddenly turns cold. Can you feel it? The sky darkens, then goes all dark. The dogs howl, rabbits hunch down, the deer run in panic, run, stampede in fright. And in this awful, incomprehensible dusk, even the birds... the birds too are confused and go to roost. And then... Complete Silence. Everything that lives is still. Are the hills going to march off? Will heaven fall upon us? Will the Earth open under us? We don't know. We don't know, for a total eclipse has come upon us..." When there is a failure to understand, the fear may cause the descent into cruel and senseless violence and turn the decent people in the merciless monsters.
As a director, Bela Tarr is extraordinary. A lot has been said about his camera work and long single take shots. His usage of only two colors - black and white is stunning, his sound works perfectly with the images adding to the building of the unbearable tension. His three main characters are played by the German actors Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, and Hanna Schygulla - the Fassbinder favorite actress, the star of his 23 films. Casting Lars Rudolf as a protagonist, the young man whose journey throughout the winter night on the streets of the town we follow step by step contributes to the movie's success. Rudolph looks like a cross between Prince Myshkin and a Rock Star, and he is actually Frontman of the group Stan Red Fox. Judging by the movie's ending, the comparison with Myshkin will sadly make sense, too. It will also bring to memory the final words of Anton Chekhov's "Ward #6" - "The whole world is Ward #6". You know, I would not say that everyone should run and find the film and watch it. I understand that it is not easy watching, it does require an active participation but I found it extremity rewarding because it introduced me to the master with the unique style, obvious talent and the interest to the eternal and difficult questions that may not have easy and immediate answers.
I am skeptical when critics announce every new interesting Eastern European director "New Tarkovsky" but I should say Tarr is the closest to him I've seen so far. The plot and the story were a little too easy and too obvious for me to follow but Tarr's ability to create an unbearable tension and atmosphere without any special tricks is amazing.
"Werckmeister Harmonies" is a masterpiece of melancholic resistance. I was resistant to it first, but then, its melancholy overwhelmed me.
This story takes place in a small town on the Hungarian Plain. In a provincial town, which is surrounded with nothing else but frost. It is bitterly cold weather - without snow. Even in this bewildered cold hundreds of people are standing around the circus trailer, which is put up in the main square, to see - as the outcome of their wait - the chief attraction, the stuffed carcass of a real whale. The people are coming from everywhere. From the neighboring settlings, even from quite far away parts of the country. They are following this clumsy monster as a dumb, faceless, rag-wearing crowd. This strange state of affairs - the appearance of the foreigners, the extreme frost - disturbs the order of the small town. Aambitious personages of the story feel they can take advantage of this situation. The tension growing to the unbearable is brought to explosion by the figure of the Prince, who is pretending facelessness. Even his mere appearance is enough to break loose destructive emotions...—Anonymous
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