A londoni férfi (The Man From London)

Right from the start, this film is disorientating. Although the action seems to be taking place in France, the scenes around the quayside, railway line and signal box look more like somewhere in the depths of eastern Europe, and the café/hotel also seems more Hungarian than French. Most of the action takes place at night, and the film has a decidedly cold, damp, dark and wintry atmosphere which perfectly matches the characters.

(details below)

My initial feeling about the period was that it must be the fifties or sixties, but the pound notes in the case look much too new and the café has a very contemporary-looking glass-fronted drinks fridge. I’m not sure if these were mistakes, or an attempt to make the film more timeless, but for me the vagueness of the time and place add to the general dreamy, unrealistic quality of the film. Although it has a pretty standard ‘film noir’-type plot and is based on a story by Georges Simenon, that is actually a minor aspect of the film. As one reviewer on IMDb put it, “there is a plot, but it is not plot-driven”.

Just as in Damnation the camerawork and the black and white photography are amazing, the takes incredibly long and the pacing extremely slow, and it all works perfectly! The dialogues in this film aren’t quite as theatrical as in Damnation, but Tarr has still made little if any attempt at realism: this is very much a work of art, open to many possible interpretations, rather than a straightforward piece of storytelling. And, exactly because of this, it expresses something which can’t easily be retold in words, so I won’t bother trying. Yet again, to quote one of the reviewers on IMDb: “It truly is a mesmerising, strangely compelling, even somewhat alienating piece of work, and a treat for the viewer who can afford it the patience.” I agree completely – except that I didn’t find I needed any patience. I was sucked completely into the film, and fascinated from start to finish.

Although neither film could possibly have been by anyone other than Béla Tarr, there are still big differences between this film and Damnation. The industrial landscape so reminiscent of Eraserhead has been replaced by a ‘film noir’-type setting, and the (excellent ) soundtrack is also very different, and perhaps a bit more ‘normal’. So, perhaps not quite up to the standard of Damnation, but still a small masterpiece which I definitely want to see again before too long.

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Details:

title A londoni férfi (The Man From London)
director Béla Tarr
released 2007
language magyar
subtitles English
seen 26/11/2014, on DVD
further information IMDb

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