The Man From London

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CANNES -- In "The Man From London," Hungarian director Bela Tarr seems to feel that imagery will tell his whole story. Blanketing his film with iconic black-and-white noir images laced with amazingly intricate camera moves, Tarr has made a 138-minute film that looks like a series of jacket covers for Cornell Woolrich's pulp fiction: A lamppost casts a pool of mournful light. Fog drifts menacingly over a waterfront. Sinister figures pass through light into shadow. That sort of thing.

And that sort of thing grows agonizingly tedious and repetitive very quickly. Nearly an hour goes by before two characters share a bit of dialogue; until then, no one watching has a clue what is supposed to be going on. Made with clear indifference to the viewer and essentially an exercise in cinematography, "London" has no possibility of connecting with any but the most tolerant art house habitue.

For the record, the hero of the movie is Fred Kelemen. He is the cinematographer and he must have killed himself on some of the complex and lengthy camera moves his director demanded.

The movie's first shot is 12 minutes long. It involves a slow pan up the side of a docked ship at night, a scarcely heard conversation aboard between shadowy figures, men getting off the boat, then a climb up to a signal cabin where the central figure can watch the harbor and sea, witness a bag getting hurled onto dry land from the boat, then a murder and finally a train pull out of a station.

The subsequent shot lasts a brisk six minutes, but again, no real story gets conveyed. We do not know who any of these shadowy figures are. We remain for much of the film with Maloin (Miroslav Krobot), a man who works at the harbor in a dreary job in a society where nearly everyone acts terrorized by unnamed forces. Yet we never get to know him much.

Curiously -- at least for those of us who love his impressive body of work -- the script is supposedly based on a crime novel by Georges Simenon. But his intricately plotted novels always contain clear and very specific action and vivid characters. Tarr and co-writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai must have tossed out 90% of his story.

We watch Malion yell at his wife, played by Tilda Swinton, who must be dubbed into Hungarian (for why learn the language for such a drab role?). We watch him yank his reluctant daughter (Erika Bok) from a menial job of which he disapproves. We watch a detective or police inspector (Janos Derzsi) chasing after some stolen money. We watch all these things but have no idea what they mean or how they fit together.

Any action of note takes place offscreen. Characters may yell, but they rarely talk so we might understand. Everyone looks guilty, but of what we do not know.

In press notes, Simenon's son says that in this film of his father's novel, the suspense takes place entirely in the hero's mind. One could say it takes place entirely in the director's mind.


THE MAN FROM LONDON
Fortissimo Films presents a T.T. Filmmuhely/13 Production/Cinema Soleil/Black Forest Films/Von Vietinghoff Filmproduktions co-production
Credits:
Director: Bela Tarr
Co-director/editor: Agnes Hranitzky
Screenwriters: Laszlo Krasznahorkai, Bela Tarr
Based on a novel by: Georges Simenon
Producers: Paul Saadoun, Miriam Zachar, Christoph Hahnheiser, Gabor Teni, Joachim von Vietinghoff
Director of photography: Fred Kelemen
Production designer: Laszlo Rajk, Anges Hranitzky, Jean-Pascal Chalard
Music: Mihaly Vig
Costume designer: Janos Breckl
Cast:
Maloin: Miroslav Krobot
Mrs. Malion: Tilda Swinton
Brown: Janos Derzi
Henriette: Erika Bok
Mrs. Brown: Agnes Szirtes
Morrison: Istvan Lenart
Running time -- 138 minutes
No MPAA rating
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