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The Chronicle Review

August 4, 2000

How 'Festival Overload Syndrome'

Affects Critics

By DAVID STERRITT

PLACE: the Cannes Film Festival, 2000 edition. EVENT: a new
movie by Béla Tarr, the year's hottest Hungarian director. TIME:
about 2:00 on the festival's next-to-last afternoon. CHARACTERS:
assorted critics and scholars, arriving 30 minutes before the
screening to beat the crowd.

Only there isn't any crowd. Perhaps the movie's title is to blame --
somehow, Werckmeister Harmoniak isn't quite as catchy as Nurse
Betty or Cecil B. DeMented, festival hits that had people lined up
long before the show. Or maybe it's the two-hour-25-minute
running time, although compared with Tarr's seven-and-a-
half-hour Sátántangó, this one clocks in as a quickie. It certainly
isn't the venue, since other attractions in the popular Director's
Fortnight series have drawn large audiences.

Whatever the reason, the auditorium is only two-thirds filled when
the film begins. The critics and scholars are pleased with their
cautious logistics, though. They've snagged the best seats in the
house, and not one of the picture's 145 minutes will escape their
scrutiny. Best of all, every half-empty row means fewer ordinary
moviegoers to rustle candy wrappers and complain about Tarr's
avant-garde cinematics.

His vision proves as avant-garde as ever. The first scene finds a
young man illustrating the structure of the solar system by
choreographing his friends into a cosmic dance in a neighborhood
saloon. Then his mentor, an aging intellectual, gives a spirited
lecture on music theory. We learn of schisms in the hero's family,
political rivalries in his community, and tensions generated by a
demagogue who's traveling through the countryside with a
mysterious circus. All of this is passionately acted, rich with

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