Friday, September 21, 2007

viff07: the man from london

France , Germany , Hungary, 2007, 135 min, 35mm

Directed By: Béla Tarr
PRODS: Christoph Hahnheiser, Paul Saadoun, Gábor Téni, Joachim von Vietinghoff, Miki Zachar
SCR: László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr
CAM: Fred Kelemen
ED: Ágnes Hranitzky
MUS: Mihály Vig
Cast: Miroslav Krobot, Tilda Swinton, János Derzsi, István Lénárt, Erika Bók

With The Man from London's gorgeously composed long takes, moody black-and-white cinematography, slow and determined (deterministic?) pace, and hypnotic score, it is obvious we are back in the hands of master Béla Tarr, the Hungarian who stunned serious cinemagoers around the world with Sátántangó in 1994, and then followed that up with the equally mesmerizing Werckmeister Harmonies in 2000. Here, he and regular collaborator László Krasznahorkai adapt a noirish novel from Georges Simenon about a seaside railway switchman who finds his life turned upside-down when he witnesses a murder, recovers a suitcase full of cash and then, rather unadvisedly, decides to keep it.

While Tarr is nominally engaged in a narrative--the eponymous man from London is a gangster who comes to find out what happened to his money--he is, as always, more concerned with the aesthetics of film form and the lack of spiritual values in a godless universe than he is with story. Shooting on the island of Corsica--which immensely contributes to the otherworldly feel of the film--and using cinematographer Fred Keleman, whose talent for capturing the darker shades of grey and black is unsurpassed, Tarr creates a timeless nightmare replete with his characteristic weathered faces, monologues and virtuoso set pieces. Perhaps an acquired taste for some, Tarr remains one of the few iconoclastic cinema visionaries, and for this, cinephiles should be grateful.

Darren Hughes, who saw the film at TIFF, writes; "The general consensus at the festival is that The Man from London is minor Tarr. I've been ambivalent about the other two films of his that I've seen, Damnation and Satantango. As the latter film proved, I will gladly sit for hours and hours and hours in front of his films. (Question of the day: Has any director in the history of cinema had a more distinct style?) The camera moves slowly, the actors speak slowly, the music churns slowly, and as a result "real" time is compressed. I couldn't believe, when The Man from London ended, that 135 minutes had passed. My qualms with Tarr have always concerned his view of the world, which is too misanthropic for my tastes. Which is probably why his latest film is my favorite of the three. I keep calling it a film noir that was left to simmer over low heat, reducing the genre to its fundamentals: man is trapped, man finds money, man attempts to escape fate. Friends look at me funny when I tell them how much I liked the protagonist, who in typical Tarr fashion has little to say. But in his own way, he's actually quite tender at times. (That I managed to use the word "tender" here is probably another reason for disappointment from the Tarr loyalists.) As usual, The Man from London is a joy to look at. His camera is still tracking for minutes at a time, and he's thrown in a couple new tricks. The 12-minute opener is a doozy. Also, Tarr stuck around for a Q&A and didn't bite off a single head. He was charming, actually, and really funny."

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