Seven years ago Béla Tarr graced movie screens with Werckmeister Harmonies, the last visionary masterpiece of a dying century, or, perhaps more accurately, the first of a new one. The former label has been applied to Tarr’s 1994 epic Sátántangó as well, but where that film is a more specific chronicle of mass uncertainty as experienced from just beyond the edge of Communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe, the anxieties at the core of Werckmeister are less localized and thoroughly amorphous. Even though their roots sprout from the same milieu as Tarr’s prior opus, in Werckmeister they assume a more millennial character. It was a few years into the 21st century before the film approached widespread availability here, but watching Werckmeister then was, and still is, an uneasy if exhilarating prospect, marked as it is by elusive traces of an earlier time. Contrasted against the chaos, madness, and destruction in its narrative, the elegant pairing of Tarr’s phantasmagoric black-and-white imagery and composer Mihály Víg’s plaintive circular odes consistently awes even as the emotions they evoke unsettle. The film reaches masterpiece status because its scenario perfectly balances timeliness with timelessness, resulting in a work that manages a statement about turn of the century angst. And the technical mastery of Werckmeister can’t be overstated—if cinema has offered anything purer and more viscerally overwhelming, then I’m not aware of it.
Tarr’s is a heavy, maximalist vision, as ambitiously difficult as it is endlessly generous to the spectator willing to fully enter its embrace. Grand effect is most often the product of grand effort, and The Man from London, Tarr’s long-awaited follow-up to Werckmeister, arrives laden with a creation story marred by the suicide of a key producer, funding issues, massive investment in production infrastructure, and interminable delays. Click here to read the rest of Jeff Reichert's review of The Man from London.