A stunning 4K restoration of Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hrasnitzy’s masterpiece — a transcendent and stupefying parable of fascism that is as relevant today as it was two decades ago.


TIFF Cinematheque

Werckmeister Harmonies

Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky

In 2000, six years after the epoch-defining work that was Sátántangó, visionary Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr and his co-director Ágnes Hranitzky released the equally profound and plaintive Werckmeister Harmonies. A parable-like, nearly timeless narrative that reflects on the fascistic fervour of the closing century while offering a troubling premonition of its sadly borne-out resurgence (in Hungary specifically, but also elsewhere), the film was immediately lauded as a masterpiece.

The noble, inquisitive, and sensitive János (Lars Rudolph) is a newspaper-delivery man whose cosmic worldview sets him apart from the mostly closed-minded residents of his village in Communist-era Hungary. He finds himself caught in the middle of an explosion of long-simmering anger and violence when a mysterious circus — with a gigantic whale in tow — visits town, and its advertised appearance by a figure only known as “The Prince” becomes unfulfilled.

Adapted from co-writer László Krasznahorkai’s 1989 novel The Melancholy of Resistance, Werckmeister Harmonies boasts a remarkable script; devastating performances; a stirring score; and languid, long-take cinematography in rich black-and-white. Presented here in a new 4K restoration, the deep contrast of the chiaroscuro images and the luminescence of the ashen ones are restored — an enhancement that serves Tarr’s signature transcendent style.

In his note for the film’s initial screening at the Festival, the late TIFF programmer Dimitri Eipides ― long a champion of Tarr’s work ― wrote of Werckmeister Harmonies: “[t]here is a distrust of the modern, and unwillingness to be seduced by the fashionable ideas of the present. As Tarr retreats into the Hungarian village to find traces of a culture he recognizes, he finds a mystical sense of resistance.” That this form of resistance feels evermore urgent today is perhaps no surprise.



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