Director: Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky
Writer: Georges Simenon (novel), Béla Tarr, László Krasznahorkai
Cinematographer: Fred Kelemen
Producer: Humbert Balsan, Christoph Hahnheiser, and Juliusz Kossakowski
by Jon Cvack
I had discovered Béla Tarr from a philosophy professor who inspired me to take up the major, starting with Damnation (1987) and having that perfect experience of wanting to invite all your film friends over to watch it; containing a style as unique as Lynch or Haneke where you’re hungry for the rest of the filmography. For those unfamiliar, always in black and white, Tarr utilizes long single takes; not revealing grand set pieces and walks and talks, but with subtle changes in composition, shifting from close ups to wides to two shots and back; other times holding the camera down as action unfolds before it, fully utilizing the monochromatic light and shadows.
The Man From London opens in close up on the submerged hull of a ship, slowly rising up, revealing the depth number, moving all the way up to starboard where a couple of men discuss something in the captain's room before the other throws a briefcase out into the water, continuing up to a railway viewing tower where Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) watches it all take place. Still rolling on the first take, he watches as the men exit the ship, turning left out toward the docks where one of the men from the captain’s office boards a train which we then follow out.
It’s a take that’s modest and yet meticulously crafted. Not every take is as engaging and Tarr understands it. The Turin Horse (2012) is almost torturous to watch in portraying the grueling life of abject 18th century poverty. The Man from London the Hitchcockian/classic noir crime story of the common man becoming entangled in a dangerous situation that spirals his life out of control. Maloin steals the cash, hoping it could relieve his meager existence; where his daughter works at a butcher, dressed in a skimpy outfit that shows off her underside while his wife Camélia (Tilda Swinton) prepares their sparse dinner and cleans their empty apartment day after day.
From there, the film follows a labyrinthe path, between Maloin, the man Morrison (János Derzsi) who stole the money, and a shady police officer Morrison (István Lénárt) who investigates the crime; abiding by Dashiel Hammett’s complexity. What I love about Tarr’s work is that I have yet to even come close to fully comprehending what they’re about. It’s all about the experience with images and characters. When finishing, I remember fragments - drying the money on an air vent, the kid playing soccer in the narrow alley, the old man eating bread and soup at the restaurant. Reading the synopsis, I realize how much I didn’t even comprehend as I was so transported by his world. It provides that strange meditative viewing experience; where what you’re watching is so profound that you at times lose concentration in order to follow a thought. It’s exactly what you hoped for from the master.
BELOW: The opening single
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