English Title: The Man from London
Original Title: A londoni férfi
Country: Hungary, France, Germany
Language: French, English
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Music: Mihály Vig
Cinematography: Fred Kelemen
Admittedly it is daunting to start watching my very first Béla Tarr’s works (with his wife and longtime editor Ágnes Hranitzky credited as the co-director), who has already retreated to a permanent retirement in filmmaking after THE TURIN HORSE (2011), as his oeuvre is mostly notorious for stirring audience’s usual viewing habits with long takes exceedingly overstay their length of tolerance, a mixed anticipation and perturbation has overtaken me when I selected his lesser praised 2007 feature as the very first introduction piece, rarely I was in such a state before even embarking on the ritual of watching a film.
I would be dishonest if I say that the opening 13-minutes long take doesn’t put me into a split second of slumber severe times, but how can anyone not to be flabbergasted by its solemn chiaroscuro grandeur, rigorously composed to illustrate a key event without spoon-feeding what is happening to audience, it is a paradigm-shifting innovation deserves admiration and endorsement, and more impressive in Tarr’s long takes are not counter-narrative, in fact, he meticulously orchestrates the narrative within the long-takes, invites audience to be fully aware of our own self-consciousness towards the happenings on the screen during the overlong shots, particularly when framing at the back of characters’ heads or the ones linger on characters’ facial expressions as if they are tableaux vivants after the dramatic occurrences.
Once I passed the early stage of maladjustment, the film tends to be rather galvanising (an accomplishment should also be ascribed to composer Mihály Vig’s resounding score with accordion or pipe organ), adapted from Belgian writer Georges Simenon’s 1934 French novel 1934 L’HOMME DE LONDRES, Tarr transmutes the thrilling plot to an existential quest of our protagonist Maloin (Krobot), who has incidentally discovered a windfall after witnessing a murder during his night shift as a switchman in a French-speaking port town where a harbour and the wagon station are conveniently located with each other. The subsequent storyline involves the investigation of a senior detective Thompson (Lénárt) from London and domestic wrangles with his overwrought wife Camélia (Swinton) when he splurges their money wantonly, plus the British murderer Brown (Derzsi) is very eager to get the money back.
Tarr avoids any choppy development devices to pander for audience’s attention span, he cooks up an equivocal scenario in the end, we never know the critical event happened inside the hut (Brown’s hideout) as Tarr’s camera fixates itself firmly outside the hut with its door closed, and regarding to Maloin’s following behaviour, after knowing his character for almost 2-hours, each of us can give various motivations contingent on our viewings of the incident Tarr ingeniously chooses not to show us.
The film is infamous also for the suicide of its producer Humbert Balson in 2005, just before the shooting due to the apparent financial burdens of Tarr’s hefty Corsican setting, so the reality check is even grimmer than the formidable fiction. What can I say? My gut feeling tells me I’m officially on board with Tarr’s filmic methodology and all the trappings, his sui generis aesthetic language soundingly enshrines his filmography into the lofty tier of contemporary auteurism and maybe one day he will curtain his retirement and surprise us if inspiration strikes!