04 October 2009

Skandies: Best Films of the Decade, #14



Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Béla Tarr)
originally placed: #19, 2001.

11 comments:

Victor said...

Hmmm ... first film on the countdown that I haven't seen, though I bought a British-region DVD a couple of years ago and found MAN FROM LONDON mesmerizing (if thin and tedious) a couple of years ago at TIFF ... guess this is as good an excuse as any to put it in the drive.

Robert Fuller said...

"Mesmerizing (if thin and tedious)"... that's a pretty good description of Werckmeister, as well.

md'a said...

I found Werckmeister Harmonies hugely disappointing when I saw it at TIFF 2000 (having seen Sátántangó twice and all) and until last week hadn't seen it since. It worked much better for me on second viewing, jumping probably like 20 points on the retarded 100-point scale (from ~34 to 54), but I still think it plays like a series of very loosely connected set pieces that don't really add up to much beyond their own virtuosity. This time it was exciting for about 30-40 minutes, then gradually became laborious, until by the big hospital sequence I was totally numb. (Plus, why the hospital? Why go beat the shit out of the ill and infirm? Does the film explain this in some way and I somehow missed it both times? Because that doesn't seem to me a natural response even if you're scared that everything's going to shit.)

Also, I'd forgotten that Lars Rudolph is as ineptly dubbed in this as Tilda Swinton is in Man From London. Wish that weren't a massive distraction, but it is.

Vadim said...

Notes I took after watching: "The symbolic framework (which is, admittedly, kind of pretentious) should only take a few minutes to figure out (light and dark — as discussed in the opening scene and then reiterated visually throughout — literalize the constant cyclical flux that the universe provides, and should be all we need to understand about How Life Works; should we try to break down the universe's patterns further, we unleash forces that are unnatural and beyond our control, hence the whale removed from its environment brings chaos, which is a nice hat tip to Moby Dick as well [you don't need to go to sea to be Ahab and kill everyone]; the idea of dismantling Werckmeister's tonal prescriptions to include the "full" scale is the analogue of this destructive unleash)"

All very vague, but not much more so than the movie. Which I love.

md'a said...

I still don't understand why they attack the hospital, though.

Something I somehow only just noticed: If you want to make one of the best films of the decade, as determined by this group, submit to Cannes. Of the seven films revealed thus far, five were in the Official Selection: Trouble Every Day, The Man Who Wasn't There, Zodiac, Irreversible, and Werckmeister Harmonies. (All in Competition save for the Denis.) Ratio dips a bit later, but of the top 20 it's still well over 50%.

Sky said...

I'm pretty sure the Tarr was not an Official Selection title, actually. Definitely not in Competition.

Michael said...

I'm not 100% sure of this, but my tacit assumption about the hospital was that, as in the US, many Eastern European countries have hospitals affiliated with religious faiths. (A Google search on "Jewish hospital Hungary" basically confirms this.) So the hospital was a convenient place to find a whole bunch of sitting ducks who were "Others." The vivid image which ceases the attack seems to validate this reading, to some extent.

md'a said...

Oops, Sky is correct. Werckmeister was in the Fortnight. Still, the point remains: Cannes.

Ryan said...

I wonder if there are any more Skandies Best of the Decade finalists that were not in the top 5 of its qualifying year. So far we've got two: Trouble Every Day and Werckmeister all the way down at #19. Perhaps Royal Tenenbaums, Punchdrunk Love, and/or Donnie Darko.

Not sure if we can draw any conclusions, these results are a function of the points-to-participant ratio as much as anything else. If we had 70 voters, it would become much more difficult for one or two voters to vault an otherwise unloved movie into the top 20.

md'a said...

Trouble Every Day was a case of one ardent fan vaulting his favorite past a number of more widely loved pictures via the full 30 points. Werckmeister Harmonies had much more general support—it most likely finished as low as #19 in '01 because relatively few people had seen it at that point. I imagine it would fare much better today.

Ryan said...

Sure, but the point I'm making is a simple one: the more voters you have, the less impact one or even three 30 point votes would have on the overall results.

I'm willing to grant that Werckmeister would finish higher than 19 if we had a revote, but I'd bet my appendix it wouldn't crack the top 7. My sense is that movie's handful of fans tend to love it, while everyone else kind of just shrugged. That kind of minoritarian enthusiasm can easily skew the results in small surveys like this one.

Not that I'm complaining; I prefer eclectic results, just remarking on the way in which the point system (and the 30 point cap) functions with relatively few voters in the voting body.