Prior to seeing Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), Bela Tarr’s name had only the vaguest meaning to me. What I learned about it didn’t fill me with joy either—only 39 shots stretched out over 145 minutes, a plot that’s deliberately vague and the idea of “not for all tastes.” I was prepared for a pretty miserable slog into the realm of the deliberately impenetrable art film—something I have little patience for. And at first, the film looked like it might bear out those fears. But as the film progresses—with its strange and nightmarish tale of a traveling exhibit of an apparently putrefying stuffed whale and the never-seen “Prince” who accompanies it—I found myself being drawn into its Kafkaesque vision. The film, in part because of its slow pace and impenetrable nature, becomes a mesmerizing experience that won’t let go of you and then proceeds to haunt you afterward with its imagery and deeply disturbing tone. Whatever else it is, the film is an experience of no little power.
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