"A small isolated village where people spend their time drinking and walking in the cold becomes hostile when a circus comes to town that contains a giant whale"
Hands down one of the most unique films I have ever seen. Other than having that great outline the film is shot in grimy black and white and almost each scene is one shot. The shots also last for more than 10 minutes. So, if you are really into cinematography then this film is a must for it does contain some of the most stunning uses of it.
However is a film supposed to be great if it all looks great? I don't think so. I think there should always be something interesting to back up interesting photography. People always give this film an A+ and only tend to focus on the visual aspects of it and I don't believe that this is the right way to look at the film. Sure, the cinematography is outstanding but we should also pay attention to the actions it is showing or how it is used to convey feelings to the images we see.
While reading up on Bela Tarr I read that he doesn't believe in using symbolism. He believes that what he photographs is what is being presented. Plain and simple. For this reason alone I feel like watching all his films since it is refreshing to see such an artistic director not cheat his way through with symbolic images that are supposed to leave a profound thought but instead just leaves you going "oh I get it the _____ is supposed to stand for ______!" Instead when a giant whale is revealed in Werkmeister Harmonies it really just stands for a giant whale just being revealed. I love that.
Given that he doesn't use symbolism but does really profound work he is able to convey some beautiful emotions. I would post a youtube link right now that contains my favorite scene in the film but when it is taken out of context it really does not have the same emotional strength at all.
In the one long take scene the circus truck has just arrived and Janos, who is the local townsmen who dreams of stars and other wonders, goes to the place where the truck is starting to unpack. He walks through the mobs of people who just stand there not saying a word. After walking around them and noticing them, he walks up to the truck and waits there patiently as they unfold the backdoor and set up a table. As soon as the man who is opening the truck sits down Janos walks up to him. His footsteps on the gravel is the only thing we hear as everyone continues to just stand there around the truck He walks up and buys a ticket to see the giant whale and begins to slowly walk inside of the truck. As he steps in a piano melody begins. He walks around the giant whale in awe of it while slowly examining everything of the whale. He slowly steps out of the truck and looks back as he walks away. A man walks up to him and asks him what is in there. He responds that that a giant whale has arrived and it has to be seen. He then adds on "see what a gigantic animal the lord can create"
I cite this scene because I think this is the key moment of the film where you really get a sense of what Bela Tarr is trying to do. He uses the long tracking shot to show a feeling of loneliness and blandness. As we see Janos walk into the truck and see the whale we get a sense of wonder just as the one Janos is feeling. We know that as soon as Janos walks out of the truck he will never be the same and will be thinking of the giant whale for the rest of the film. This is filmmaking at its best.
There are another couple of scenes that are just fantastic as well but there are also some scenes which just don't connect as well as others. For example we get scenes of people walking for 10 minutes or little kids playing for 10 minutes. These scenes, although they add more to the sense of loneliness in the film, also make the film feel well...slow. It is this aspect of the film that will make a lot of people either love the film or hate the film. Its just all a matter of personal taste and a question of how you feel during the film. Some will fall under its slow but beautiful charm meanwhile others will say its boring. For me it was a little bit of both but some scenes just left me floored.
Werkmeister Harmonies, love it or hate it, is a beautiful piece of filmmaking that is sure to stir up a number of emotions from its viewers. It is a powerful example of a director taking his craft as art and not as pure entertainment and for this reason alone it is a pleasure to watch.