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Sunday, April 8, 2012

WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES (2000)

In a small, isolated village in Hungary, one of the town’s leading citizens fixates on the superiority of musical scales before they became ‘well-tempered.’ His ex-wife (Hanna Schygulla, of Fasssbinder fame) vows to return home unless he agrees to head a better government panel. His nephew/caretaker (a very fine Lars Rudolph) leads tavern habitués in a dance that demonstrates the lunar eclipse, before heading off to play general factotum & holy fool to the community at large. Then the circus comes to town. Not with the usual clowns & acts, but with a decayed whale as sole attraction. From such unexpected, even unrelated parts, Hungarian master Béla Tarr shows how thin a membrane civilization lives by, and how the moral equilibrium that holds a social order in place can rupture. Shot in uncomfortably long takes, Tarr’s slow-crawl tracking shots & phenomenal eye for monochrome composition help this challenging film fest fare live up to the hype. A compelling, mysterious fable of dread & escalating violence, it’s both inexplicable and unforgettable, as if Samuel Beckett had gone to film school in Pest . . . or perhaps Buda.

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