DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of  Werckmesiter Harmonies


Title:  Werckmesiter Harmonies

Release Date:  2000

Nationality and Language: Hungary, Hungarian

Running time: about 140 minutes

MPAA Rating:  PG-13

Distributor and Production Company:  Menemsha Entertainment

Director; Writer: Bela Tarr  Music by Mihaly Vig, based on a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai


Cast:  Lars Rudolph 

Technical: Black and white  (cinematographer Gabor Medvigy)

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I just missed the chance to see this at the Castro Theater in San Francisco nut manage to catch it a the U Film Society in Minneapolis.


What is interesting is that this “philosophical” film will obviously engage those who care about its themes, but may seem incidental and arbitrary to less patient movie-goers who like a more self-directed story. The setup in surreal, in the style of David Lynch.  A rather charismatic young man (Valushka, played by German actor Lars Rudolph) cares for an aging mentor musician, a subjective feminine personality deeply engaged in challenging the idea of the well-tempered 12-note musical scale developed during the Baroque era by Andreas Werckmesiter. In one scene, a Back prelude is played without the temper, with very bizarre and unsettling effect, and the mesmerizing sound track gains effect by staying away from the black keys why running over a ground bass like a passacaglia. Valushka is very efficient in everything he does (even folding blankets as he puts his mentor to bed), seems somewhat self-directed himself, and rather uninterested in conventional relationships. (Perhaps he is indeed gay, but this is never out in the open.) In the opening scene, in fact, he is arranging men in a bar to dance like planets and moons revolving in their orbits. 


But his village world is disintegrating around him. The specifics and time setting are unclear (like a Nazi invasion coming) but real hardships and shortages threaten civil unrest. A circus exhibiting a huge whale comes to town, as if to set up an amusement or diversion for the townspeople while they are manipulated into subservience. The circus is run by “The Prince” who may or may not be tied to the musician. The plot takes psychological turns, with an emphasis on the aloof and self-indulgent nature of the musician and unseen Prince, and the attempt of a family member to disrupt the musician’s work and force the musician to pay more attention to conventional family matters. But it gets out of control, and erupts into arson and violence, with a harrowing scene where old men are attacked in a hospital, and then where Vakushka is chased down a railroad track by a modern chopper. He winds up in a mental hospital himself, looking almost emasculated below the waist, his legs apparently turned bald despite his youth.


The film has a way of fixing on certain images (like Vakushka running) for extended periods, almost like stills in an iMac movie, and these may be effective but they do lengthen the film.


This film has a stunning underlying concept – self-motivated characters forced to metamorphize and even assimilate new identities during a period of manipulated external unrest. So farm it has been available only from European distributors. Perhaps a company like Lions Gate will pick this one up.


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