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Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Werckmeister harmóniák (original title)
A naive young man witnesses an escalation of violence in his small hometown following the arrival of a mysterious circus attraction.


Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky (co-director)


László Krasznahorkai (novel), László Krasznahorkai (screenplay) | 4 more credits »
6 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Lars Rudolph ... János Valuska
Peter Fitz Peter Fitz ... György Eszter
Hanna Schygulla ... Tünde Eszter
János Derzsi ... Man In The Broad-Cloth Coat
Djoko Rosic Djoko Rosic ... Man In Western Boots (as Djoko Rossich)
Tamás Wichmann Tamás Wichmann ... Man In The Sailor-Cap
Ferenc Kállai Ferenc Kállai ... Director
Mihály Kormos ... Factotum
Putyi Horváth Putyi Horváth ... Porter (as dr. Horváth Putyi)
Enikö Börcsök Enikö Börcsök
Éva Almássy Albert Éva Almássy Albert ... Aunt Piri (as Almási Albert Éva)
Irén Szajki Irén Szajki ... Mrs. Harrer
Alfréd Járai Alfréd Járai ... Lajos Harrer
György Barkó György Barkó ... Mr. Nadabán
Lajos Dobák Lajos Dobák ... Mr. Volent


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.... Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Drama | Mystery


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Did You Know?


The movie was shot in the town of Baja, Hungary. See more »


Janos finds Lajos, who is supposedly dead, yet you can clearly see the actor breathing. See more »


János Valuska: You are the sun. The sun doesn't move, this is what it does. You are the Earth. The Earth is here for a start, and then the Earth moves around the sun. And now, we'll have an explanation that simple folks like us can also understand, about immortality. All I ask is that you step with me into the boundlessness, where constancy, quietude and peace, infinite emptiness reign. And just imagine, in this infinite sonorous silence, everywhere is an impenetrable darkness. Here, we only experience ...
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Featured in What Is Cinema? (2013) See more »


Radetzky March
by Johann Strauss Sr.
(played during the scene where Tünde Eszter (Hanna Schygulla) is dancing with the Chief Constable (Péter Dobai).
See more »

User Reviews

The Day the Circus Came Into Town...
24 December 2011 | by rooprectSee all my reviews

"Werckmeister Harmonies" is one of the most challenging films, with the greatest payoff, of any movie I've ever seen. A visually stunning adaptation of László Krasznahorkai's novel "The Melancholy of Resistance", this film tells the story of a sleepy Hungarian village over the course of about a day and a half when the circus rolls into town. With the circus come two main attractions: the body of a giant whale, and a 25-lb circus freak known only as "The Prince". These two attractions have profound, shocking effects on our hero Janos (excellently played by the boyish Lars Rudolph) and the inhabitants of the entire village, if not the entire country.

The story presents a powerful allegory, every bit as biting and accusatory as Plato's "Allegory of the Cave", exposing the nature of human folly and the reason why society does, did, and always shall suck. I've found that the people who most enjoy this film are those who are moderately to extremely cynical; it shows us a very dark, nihilistic, nightmarish world similar to what we've seen in the classics "Brazil", Orson Welles' "The Trial" and basically every Herzog film ever made.

But what makes this dark film enjoyable to watch is that doesn't just show us that humanity is flawed; it seeks to explain *why* humanity is flawed.

I'll warn you up front, this is a very slow moving film with seemingly pointless, indulgent scenes of people silently walking down the street, eating a can of soup, or walking down the street in the opposite direction. Something to bear in mind is, just like in the epic "2001: A Space Odyssey" which has scenes of, say, an astronaut running on a giant hamster wheel for a painfully long time, these scenes are there to convey the monotony of existence. Even beyond that, these scenes are supposed to convey the comfort humans feel with tedious & ritualistic behavior. Order vs. chaos.

The second thing that might help is the meaning of the title "Werckmeister Harmonies" which is the key to understanding the film's message. It's explained in a scene near the beginning, but I'll try to explain it in simpler terms here. In western music, we have a particular tuning system for all instruments. This system was developed by Andreas Werckmeister around the year 1700, and centuries later we still use it. The problem is, in a nutshell, it's wrong. Werckmeister's "well tempered" tuning is a compromise that allows instruments to sound good in a variety of keys, but it sacrifices the purity of sounding perfect in any 1 particular key. Pure, "natural" instruments such as the recorder flute sound great but they are limited to 1 key, 7 notes per octave. When western music took on complex instruments like the piano & guitar which play in every key, 12 notes per octave, a certain degree of fudging had to be made in their tuning. This is because in the natural world, the diverse frequencies of music don't add up to neatly repeating 12- note octaves as we want (for some reason we lose about 1/5 of a note every octave). Thus the music we know today, while not necessarily being unpleasant, is not as pure & simple as true "naturally tuned" instruments of yesteryear.

How does this relate to the movie? The movie is about humans' need to quantify the unquantifiable, our need to create artificial order that suits us, even though it may be an aberration of nature. If you grasp this idea, along with the metaphor of the Werckmeister tuning, as well as the creative story that unfolds in the film, all augmented with intelligent cinematography, you will adore this film.

Congratulations, you have successfully read through the driest & most boring IMDb review I have ever written. I have no doubt that you will enjoy solving the philosophical puzzle of the film "Werckmeister Harmonies".

Similar, challenging films include: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1969), "Aguirre the Wrath of God" (1972), or the more recent Coen brothers' philosophical "A Serious Man", or the brain-blasting Kaufman dark comedy/mindbender "Synecdoche, NY" (2008).

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Hungary | Italy | Germany | France


Hungarian | Slovak

Release Date:

1 February 2001 (Hungary) See more »

Also Known As:

Werckmeister Harmonies See more »

Filming Locations:

Hungary See more »


Box Office


FRF10,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,852, 7 October 2001

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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