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DVD review: Bela Tarr films

This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press.

werckmeister-stillWERCKMEISTER HARMONIES
****

Six years after it was made, this masterpiece of surrealism by iconoclastic Hungarian director Bela Tarr is finally available on DVD in the U.S., thanks to Chicago’s Facets Video. In this gorgeously filmed black-and-white epic, peculiar and menacing events happen for reasons never fully explained. A “circus” comes to town, but it’s nothing more than a corrugated-metal trailer with the carcass of a whale inside. Rumors abound of a powerful “Prince” who is behind the scenes, his speeches rousing people to violence. A mob gathers and finally erupts into violence, attacking a hospital. Viewers looking for a logical plot may be frustrated, and the slow pace requires patience. At a Chicago International Film Festival screening a few years ago, someone asked Tarr what all of the symbols meant; he bluntly replied, “There are no symbols. There is only what you see on the screen.” That answer may sound facetious, but in a sense, he’s right. Against the backdrop of a place ravaged by Nazism and Communism in the 20th century, this is a film about how seemingly meaningless events can cascade into mass hysteria, paranoia and authoritarianism. Other Tarr films released recently by Facets include “The Outsider” (**½) about a young man’s aimless life, a film that is itself a little aimless, and “The Prefab People” (***), a John Cassavettes-style drama about an argumentative couple.

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