Werckmeister Harmonies ★★★★★

Why do I hold Werckmeister Harmonies aloft as the greatest film I have ever seen? A huge part of it, admittedly, and the thing that makes me think it will remain my favourite film to the day I die, is its profound personal relevance. I first saw the film about 5 years ago now, at a time when my interest in cinema was in the very very earliest stages of blossoming. It blew me away. Takes that long, images that symbolic, music that intoxicating, scenes that spellbinding, meanings that elusive... it was far too much for my uninitiated mind to deal with, but I knew that it was changing me. What's funny is that I encountered it entirely by mistake: up inadvisably late one night, I turned on the television just as the continuity announcer signalled its beginning and, eager to expand my cinematic horizons, settled in to watch. It was perhaps 4am by the time it finished and I, then a schoolkid, was to be up at 7. I ensured before leaving the house the next morning that I had commandeered my parents' credit card to order the DVD. I may have stood already at the cliff's edge, gazing out over the vast sea of cinema, but it was Werckmeister Harmonies that pushed me off; this was an experience nothing else in life had offered me, and I could feel myself falling deeply and inextricably in love with film. There was no turning back: I had tasted the drug, and nothing else could hope to replace the sheer ecstasy of being consumed in the warm glow of the screen. It's no exaggeration to say that my life wouldn't be what it is now had I not seen that film at that time, the passions it stirred so powerful that they eventually saw me uproot my life in pursuit of them in a way I never would have before.

So there is the significance of Werckmeister Harmonies to me. Maybe it's why this rewatch came so late after my last viewing of it—once the DVD arrived there had been many—almost a year on from the prior one. I liked to tell myself I was giving my mind time to forget the details, to make the rewatch experience as fresh and new as possible, but these aren't images you can forget. I think really I was afraid in a sense: afraid that far greater knowledge of, and familiarity with, cinema would make me realise that actually Werckmeister Harmonies is nothing much special. Not so. Not so at all. My younger self may have known nothing about the movies, but transcendental experiences aren't born of spectacle alone. Werckmeister Harmonies hit me so hard then, and still hits me so hard now, because it consummately encapsulates the sum of humanity in its 145 minutes. Hyperbolic though it might sound, here is a film that says pretty much everything about our species, implementing the unique qualities of cinema to describe the unique qualities of man. I won't go into the specifics of its symbolism, the technical merits it abundantly flaunts, the immaculate narrative structure that makes it striking entertainment alongside elucidating art, for to do so is to fundamentally detract from it. It needs to be experienced in its own terms, the captivating hypnotism of its aesthetic allowed to work its magic as the underlying thematic poignancy creeps up behind you and sneaks in, unobtrusively but unforgettably. Werckmeister Harmonies is, I believe, a perfect film. Even if only for one man, it is life-changing.

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