A naive young man witnesses an escalation of violence in his small hometown following the arrival of a mysterious circus attraction.
May 26, 2023 (2023 Re-release) | Theatrical Limited
Country of Origin: Hungary
Werckmeister Harmonies is an allegory of the post WWII Eastern European political systems told as a b&w filmmatic poem with 37 long single camera shots.The film was made post the end of the cold war in Hungary 2000 it is based on a 1989 book “The Melancholy of Resistance” written during the time of the iron curtain by László Krasznahorkai. It examines the brutalisation of a society its political systems and dogmas through the metaphor of a decaying circus whale and its star performer. It is set in a desolate, isolated small town in Hungary during Soviet times.The film starts with János Valuska, a simple citizen, conducting a poem and dance with drunken bar patrons. The dance is of the total eclipse of the sun, which disturbs than silences the animals, but it finishes with the grand return of the warm sunlight.A reoccurring theme is the transitions from darkness to light. In the opening scene the light represent the warm sun of self determination which transitions to the people thrown out through a door in to the dark of night. The circus arrives like a Trojan Horse in the darkness of night. There is a wonderful poetic scene were the lead character walks in and out of the shadows .The film is in b&wHis uncle György is a composer, and therefore one of the elite. György observes the imperfection and compromise of the musical scale (as defined by Andreas Werckmeister a historical theorist). György proposes changes to the scale to make it more harmonious. György’s utopian approach to music represents a flawed naive idealism that never can be achieved, it is not developed any further in the film or the book. It is just a statement that human governance will always be flawed. A less cryptic name for the film might be The Inevitably Flawed Paradox of Human Governance but that would destroy the enigma that this film is. It is an acknowledgement even when light of self government comes there will still be flaws because we are human.György’s estranged wife tries to leverage her political and social status by giving György a list of names to sign up for the “clean up the town movement”, this with the blessing of the police chief.However a stuffed smelly circus whale and its star performer, Prince, comes to town this is used a metaphor for a bloated political system and the unseen Prince who represents the power of politically inspired, emotive dogma.János philosophises about God and the beast (each viewer will interpret this differently).The post office workers are unsettled by the ominous disturbing signs of the circuses arrival and are disturbed by the cloud that settles over each town it visits (a reference to the spread of the externally imposed centralised monolithic government system onto the Soviet buffer nations, just after the war).György’s struggling cobbler brother gets the list and passes it on to the agitated throbbing masses in the town square who are unhappy at public services failing.György’s former wife sleeps with the drunk gun toting chief.The presence of the whale and the Prince stir up the masses.
János overhears the circus master losing control of his faceless Prince, who is becoming drunk with his own voice of revolutionary dogma. The circus master disowns him. The Prince, now free, inflames the masses.The people riot.The film is shot as a beautiful but disturbing visual poem. Long single shot scenes with a hypnotic and rhythmetic pace build up to the disconnected yet peaceful observation of the thuggish destruction of the hospital and its patents and the brutal inhumanity of the rioters, which almost seems normal and natural. You almost become one of the rioters as you get swept up in this pointless crowd-think not knowing or caring where it is going. Social upheaval does not always need a reason.When the rioters finally come to beating a helpless old naked patent they see their impotent sad and powerless selves. The sick helpless patents in the hospital are a mirror of the rioters themselves.After the riot János comes across the diary of a rioter it explains that the rioters did not know what they were angry with; so they were angry at everything, than it recounts the mobs horrendous rape of two working class post office girls.János comes across his killed cobbler uncle who got naively involved in the riot. János is told, by his cobbler uncles wife, to leave town for his own safety.He is intercepted by a helicopter. He finds himself committed to a mental institution with caged beds (a tool of the time for dealing with political dissidents). János appears drugged and broken.György his composer uncle is evicted from their society house but gets to live in a shed in the garden whilst György’s former wife, with her new status as a collaborator, now occupies the big house with the police chief. The intelligentsia is displaced by political opportunism.György tells a vacant János, in the ward, that IF he is released from the mental institution they can live contentedly together in the shed with his piano, János just stares.It finishes with György looking directly into the eye of the whale than, walking away and looking back at the now sad and dishevelled whale, destroyed by the rioters the night before, its rotting carcass slowly enveloped by the fog which gets whiter and brighter.The camera pans up as warm bright sunlight returns…………The director worked closely with the author. The book looks at the myopic petty interpersonal effects at roots of the situation however the film instead examines the overview of the forest. Like the film the book has paragraphs a chapter long. It spends 5 pages on a decaying corpse but not that of the whale.Gerard Hosier
This story takes place in a small town on the Hungarian Plain. In a provincial town, which is surrounded with nothing else but frost. It is bitterly cold weather – without snow. Even in this bewildered cold hundreds of people are standing around the circus trailer, which is put up in the main square, to see – as the outcome of their wait – the chief attraction, the stuffed carcass of a real whale. The people are coming from everywhere. From the neighboring settlings, even from quite far away parts of the country. They are following this clumsy monster as a dumb, faceless, rag-wearing crowd. This strange state of affairs – the appearance of the foreigners, the extreme frost – disturbs the order of the small town. Aambitious personages of the story feel they can take advantage of this situation. The tension growing to the unbearable is brought to explosion by the figure of the Prince, who is pretending facelessness. Even his mere appearance is enough to break loose destructive emotions… — Anonymous The story takes place in Hungary, shortly after WWII. Events center around young János Valuska. Trustworthy, caring and respectful, János enjoys a modest yet peaceful existence with his close knit, extended family. Undaunted by cosmic events that will soon overshadow the whole community, the artistically inspired János directs and narrates a performance for a motley crew of intoxicated misfits in a local bar. Shortly thereafter, a new exhibit featuring a great whale and a foreign prince arrives in town. Apparently, this public display has already caused much commotion in neighboring towns, and once again trouble appears to be brewing. Aunt Tünde tries to organize a committee to restore order. Uncle György, a reclusive reactionary, wants nothing to do with this ‘media circus’, but in order to avoid confronting his wife directly, he reluctantly agrees to be the chairman. János goes to see the whale and eventually realizes that the exhibit is indeed a diabolical threat to the community, but he still does not understand how or why. Events reach a frightening climax when a mob of angry citizens ransack a hospital. When all the smoke and debris has finally settled, János is left even more clueless than he had been to start. The film insinuates that the Soviets deliberately provoked social unrest in Hungary so as to provide context for a justifiable military takeover. Those who naively cooperated with the Soviets became puppets. Others who opposed the Soviets were either killed or ostracized. The big ‘fish out of water’ represents the elite members of Hungarian society, who were rendered utterly powerless and useless. — Anonymous