Directed by: Bela Tarr
Countries & Regions: France, Germany, Hungary
Length: 132 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 6 April 2009
Cat No: ART416DVD
Languages(s): English, French
Screen ratio 1:1.78
Dolby Digital 5.1
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The Man from London
Hungarian director Bela Tarr helms this brooding mystery drama, which is loosely based on a lesser-known novel by Belgian crime novelist... Read More
Anyone thinking that one of the most uncompromisingly heavyweight auteurs in contemporary cinema had succumbed to the lure of base commerce when he chose to adapt a mystery novel by Inspector Maigret creator Georges Simenon as the basis for his first feature in seven years will be relieved to hear that The Man From London is quintessential Béla Tarr, and a fitting follow-up to Damnation, Sátántangó and Werckmeister Harmonies.
Shot in smoky, crepuscular black-and-white by fellow director Fred Kelemen, it’s scored with a haunting accordion waltz by regular collaborator Mihály Vig, and has an internationally eclectic cast whose British contingent includes Tilda Swinton, as well as Edward Fox on dubbing duties in this – Tarr’s preferred – Anglo-French version. It rivets the attention from the opening panoramic track across a coastal French harbour where a seemingly straightforward case of customs evasion leads to a dispute over a briefcase, which in turn leads to murder. The briefcase inadvertently falls into the hands of the crime’s only witness, harbour signalman Maloin (Czech actor Miroslav Krobot), but when he finds that it’s full of banknotes, far from heralding the end of decades of impoverished drudgery and a long-desired new life for his family, they become the source of all-consuming existential torment. Meanwhile, the murder investigation proceeds at a glacial pace, courtesy of 87-year-old Hungarian veteran István Lenárt as the British detective Morrison, seemingly more concerned with being seen to tie up loose ends than in achieving true justice in any accepted sense. In any case, Tarr tells us who the killer is from the start: he’s much more interested in his characters’ psychology and indeed physiognomy, taking as much time as he feels is necessary to scrutinise an extraordinary collection of faces and try to tease out the construction of the minds behind them. And if this is ultimately as futile a gesture as Maloin’s farcical ‘treat’ for his daughter Henriette (Erika Bók, formerly the cat-tormenting waif in Sátántangó), it serves to intensify the underlying mystery even as Tarr meticulously pares away all the conventional generic elements. No-one else is making films quite like this.