A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Bela Tarr's "Werckmeister Harmonies" (2000) is maddening if you are not in sympathy with it, mesmerizing if you are. If you have not walked out after 20 or 30 minutes, you will thereafter not be able to move from your seat. "Dreamlike," Jim Jarmusch calls it. Nightmarish as well; doom-laded, filled with silence and sadness, with the crawly feeling that evil is penetrating its somber little town. It is filmed elegantly in black and white, the camera movements so stately they almost float through only 39 shots in a film of 145 minutes.
To know where we stand as the film begins, we should start with these words by the director, Tarr: "I despise stories, as they mislead people into believing that something has happened. In fact, nothing really happens as we flee from one condition to another ... All that remains is time. This is probably the only thing that's still genuine -- time itself; the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds."
And what is time anyway but our agreement to divide one rotation of the earth around the sun into units? Could there be hours, minutes, seconds, on a planet without our year? Why would one earth second need to exist except as part of one earth year? Perhaps such questions lead us into the extraordinary, funny, ingenious 11-minute shot at the start of the picture.
It is the dead of winter, almost closing time in a shabby pub. An eclipse of the sun is due, and Janos (Lars Rudolph), the local paper carrier, takes it upon himself to explain what will happen in the heavens. He pushes the furniture to the walls, and enlists a drunk to stand in the center of the floor and flutter his hands, like the sun's rays. Then he gets another pal to be the earth, and walk in circles around the sun. And then a third is the moon, walking in his own circles around the earth. All of these circles stagger around, the drunks rotating, and then the moon comes between the sun and the earth, and there is an eclipse: "The sky darkens, then goes all dark," Janos says. "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?"