As far as I can see, Bela Tarr movies exist to prove one single point: that in a movie theatre there is no fast forward button. This I have demonstrated by fast forwarding nearly every DVD presentation of Bela Tarr’s movies that I have watched, and will certainly never go the cinema to watch him again, as I cannot take the sore bottom and head that he seeks of his viewers.
The Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) has several virtues over other Bela Tarr films, in that it proves interestingly surreal once in a while, particularly in the aspect of the whale. However, at the same time, The Werckmeister Harmonies labours more than most of Bela Tarr’s films in its tiresome ‘people doing nothing’ scenes.
What!? says Tarr; a man a eating bowl of soup cannot be cinema? No — I didn’t say that. I just resignedly say that I think this type of is cinema for people with greater taste than I; people that can watch these soup eaters in 7 minutes static shots in black and white, and feel really proud that they are experiencing something amazing. To me, such emptiness can be expressed in so many other ways.
That Hannah Schygulla had been dubbed in The Werckmeister Harmonies made this even worse for me. I was disappointed and asked: if Bela Tarr had to absolutely, positively cast Hannah Schygulla as Tünde Eszter, then why not have her speak German? But ugh; once again I am proved a Philistine, but why, for why, oh?
If there is one thing that does make me piss myself laughing when Bela Tarr comes up it is talk of breath-taking camera movements; in this case, thirty nine languidly paced tracking shots. That’s all there is to this film, and alluring to cineastes as that may sound, it is plainly an exercise in directorial expression over audience enjoyment. There’s a background to it all somewhere, and a good explanation, but I am so old school about my viewing that I usually demand some form of entertainment from the movies.
As if to compound the hell of viewing The Werckmeister Harmonies, Tarr plays the film’s only exciting moment — the raid on the town hospital — in silence, confirming his hold on the crown of miserabilist cinema, and in this case, nearly causing a foot (mine) to connect with the screen.