July 31, 2008
What I respond to particularly about Bela Tarr’s films, aside from the visual style, which is very close to my own sensibilities (walking around the waterfront after watching it was pretty special), is that I generally find film to be an extremely compromised artform, and his work almost completely artistically uncompromised. Now, that is something I value, which is a result of my conditioning and psychological make-up, so there is no reason anyone else should agree.
The Man From London is Tarr’s take on a straight, taut thriller. Given his penchant for incredibly long, technically astounding camera shots, and epicly slow pacing, this is a pretty strange move. The hazy and bizarre narrative, and the general unreality of the world, in Werckmeister Harmonies suited his expressive visionary style much more.
The Man From London is a less successful movie. The dubbing and foley is weirdly off. The normality of the world and events makes the pacing glacial. However, there is a lot I liked. The extraordinary array of actors – with amazing faces – he populates his worlds with. The way he brings time and space back into the experience of film. They have been removed by conventions and cutting techniques. Tarr brings them back. Long sequences of characters walking from place to place remind us that important stuff happens in their experience – they have time to think about what is happening, and so on.
The first half hour are superb, almost silent, and represent prodigal direction. After that, the narrative ensues, and is slow. Once the pieces are in place, the set up is in fact extremely taut – but the pacing does not allow for the tension to be sustained, and the eventual resolution is so somehow lacking, occurring offscreen, that we are faced with the prospect of a thriller that isn’t really about tension. It becomes a question of the psychological motivations of characters, and their interactions with the people and space around them. In this sense it reminds me of his earlier film Damnation.
The sparse, bleak, black and white worlds Tarr creates give us a sense of timelessness and emotional devastation. We are left with the actions of people, and to wonder why. There are no easy answers. The Man From London also ends somewhat abruptly, without the final scene which would resolve many of the questions we are left with about the main character.We end on a close-up of a woman’s face. She has not uttered more than three lines of dialogue in the movie, yet has been deeply affected by events, in almost incidental fashion her life has been destroyed; and this is the shot Tarr leaves us with before whiting out.
Not an easy film – a bunch of people left during it – but one I am very glad to have seen on the big screen.