The Man from London ***
Directed by Bela Tarr
Written by Bela Tarr, based on the novel by Georges Simenon
Miroslav Krobot as Maloin
Ági Szirtes as Mrs. Brown
János Derzsi as Brown
Erika Bók as Henriette
István Lénárt as Morrison
132 Minutes(Not Yet Rated)
"The Man from London" is my first experience with director/writer Bela Tarr, even though of late I have heard lavish praises from him in certain places. I must say, this is not a film for everybody, and even though at times the pacing was brutally slow-and several people actually walked out of the screening room to highlight this point-I stuck to it, and this is one of the rare examples of recent memory where a film doesn't only tell a good story, but remains truly artistic and strongly symbolic. I didn't love this movie, but I was able to appreciate the subtle touches, the beautiful images, and even though at times it lost me during its lengthy run time, it kept me interested in the story on the whole.
We begin very quietly, an epic shot of a boat in the harbor-this lasts about five minutes at least as we go up the boat and around it to the main action. A train porter named Maloin gets his hands on a briefcase full of stolen money. He goes about his business-he visits a woman who I think was his wife, complains about his daughter having to wear such skimpy clothing to work, goes to a bar and talks to the bartender, all while being followed by a mysterious man who seems to know exactly what is going on.
The plot is very thin, but this is more a film about observation than story. It took me a while to get adjusted to the pacing, but Tarr starts things off slow with a music less and long opening credit sequence-simple white text on black screen. After a while I began to take notice of small detail-there is a constant emphasis on isolation at times-almost every character as well as background characters, appear to be alone. The man walks around by himself, despite being followed, we see a man in a bar eating alone, we see a woman cleaning alone, we see a little boy playing in an alley alone. And even when people are together, for example the man character and the woman played by a misplaced Tilda Swinton-who is used more as a face as everything she says is overdubbed in Hungarian-they are never on the same level emotionally. Take a scene where a police officer tells a woman things about her husband. She just stares blankly, tearing up from the knowledge, while he continues to talk. And he always talks in beat to the background music, which plays over and over again in nightmarish fashion. In fact, I think the only scene that actually has two people on the same level is a scene where the man goes shopping with his daughter, able to buy her something to cover her body while she is working because he has come upon such money. Is this an ironic statement about how money can bring people together? I don't know, honestly, but this is a strong discussion film, able to be seen several times before putting the pieces together. I only have a small grasp on it myself.
The direction is quite lovely. Tarr someone pulls off some amazing shots, where I wonder if the camera man was transparent. At times I was amazed by how he pulled some things off. And he shoots in beautiful noir black and white, even though many of the characters here are the opposite of classic noir characters. The main character is usually mysterious, just like here, but has a personality, despite getting deeper and deeper into trouble. The main female character, usually a rather sexy and seductive woman, looks torn and haggard all the time (this is the Swinton character.) The visuals are really something to feast upon here, and even when the story takes a lull there is always something to watch. I think my main problem with "The Man from London" was the slow pacing-at times it just seemed a bit too much and pretentious. I can't justify the people walking out of the room-they hardly gave the movie a chance-but it is hard to focus during certain parts, especially at the start since you aren't expecting it.
I am curious about Tarr's seven hour film, which I read a little bit about in the program book. But this is a film for acquired taste, but still an interesting work that needs to be seen several time to get a proper grasp of.