After witnessing a crime during his night shift as railway switchman near the docks, a man finds a briefcase full of money. While he and his family step up their living standards, others start looking for the disappeared case.
Plotting on a payment they are about to receive, residents of a collapsing collective farm see their plans turn into desolation when they discover that Irimiás, a former co-worker who they thought was dead, is coming back to the village.
A large, claustrophobic apartment is the setting for this intense chamber drama. In this dense setting, the inhabitants of the apartment reveal their darkest secrets, fears, obsessions and hostilities.
Miklós B. Székely
Revisits of locations on the Great Hungarian Plain - the puszta - that were used in Tarr's Sátántangó and Werckmeister harmóniák. Recitations of short lyric poems by Hungary's national poet Sándor Petofi. The film is shot in color.
A young boy plays an accordion in a shopping mall. Béla Tarr picks up the camera one more time to shoot his very last scene. It is his anger about how refugees are treated in Europe, especially in Hungary.
One night Maloin, a switchman at a seaside railway station situated by a ferry harbor, witnesses a terrible event. He is just watching the arrival of the last ferry at night from his control room on top of a high iron traverse from where he can see the whole bay. Suddenly he notices that the first of the disembarking passengers, a tall thin figure (a certain Brown as it will turn out later) leaves the harbor, but not on the usual route: after getting through customs, he goes around the dock and then withdraws into a dark corner, waiting. Opposite him, in front of the ship, another man soon appears and throws a suitcase towards the man on the shore. He goes and picks it up, then waits in an dark corner for the other man to join him. When he arrives, however, they begin to quarrel and finally, in the course of the vehement fight, due to a hit that turns out to be fatal, the shorter one falls in the water and sinks, clutching the suitcase in his hand. Maloin is watching the scene, ...Written by
The suicide of producer Humbert Balsan on 10 February 2005 prompted director Béla Tarr to shut down production of this film, after disputes with the other producers over a possible change in the film's financing. See more »
When Maloin and the bartender set up the chessboard and pieces for their daily game, they place the board with a black square in the lower right corner. (The baseball equivalent would be to have the catcher and batter set up at first base instead of home plate!) See more »
Quality cinema that forces us to look at the art form in a different way (even if you're patience is tried in the doing so)
When you were a kid, did you ever hear the phrase, "You'll understand when you're older"? This weighty, grinding, almost intimidatingly lugubrious film from iconic filmmaker Béla Tarr may make you cringe in your seat as if it is all just too awful to understand.
The Man From London is interminable hours of the most hauntingly composed black and white photography you could see for a long time. There's slow symbolism dense enough to sink the Titanic. You'd beg them to crank the movie faster, but daren't in case it's a masterpiece. As a stylistic exercise it leaves you gasping, but working it all out is another matter. There's a Wagnerian majesty to it. A dignity that defies intellectual comprehension. At least until it has had time to sink in at a deeper level.
The opening shot made me think of that boat that ferried the dead across the River Styx. We see the hull of the ship. It is drained of colour and sunlight. Eventually waves of darkness drift down across the screen like eyelids closing. We are forced to contemplate it. The shimmer of lamplight on the damp dockside. Looking out through the lattice squares of a window, train lines frame the noirish scene. Low key lighting and oblique angles evoke a sense of dread.
We have panned back to take in more of the ship in the desolate jetty. This could be somewhere in Eastern Europe. Somewhere you pull your coat collar around you tight to keep out the damp, dank feelings permeating everything. Somewhere you'd rather not be alone.
Diagonal foreground lines of an overcoat collar intersect our view. We look over the shoulder of someone (Maloin) watching the scene below. There, men dressed in black woollen overcoats and hats. Only their faces highlighted. Steam issuing from between the wheels of a waiting train. A wordless conspiracy over a suitcase. Feel the cold, clammy atmosphere of undetermined threat.
The Man from London proceeds not at the speed of hell freezing over. More like a hell frozen over long ago and never to thaw. Ever. A place from which there is no escape. A god-forsaken wasteland.
The plot, what there is of it, is taken from a story by Simenon. It involves the discovery of a suitcase of money that railway switchman Maolin fishes out of the drink. The corpse comes later. The dosh was stolen. But the mystery, while satisfyingly concluded in its own good time, is little more than a pretext. Enigmatic justice dispensed by a police inspector takes our mind off to unexpected pathways. Hope, hopelessness, redemption (and without any simplistic religious overtones). Justice and humanity. But the real power of the film is in its formalist rejection of cinematic convention. There is a plot, but it is not plot-driven. The landscape, the bare-furnished rooms, are all protagonists, as much as the sullen and uncommunicative characters.
The cinematography cuts the air like a Baltic ice-axe and supports the film's main theses. We first see Tilda Swinton, Maloin's wife, almost as a hidden part of this surly man's own persona. The camera pans up slowly from behind Maloin, revealing her slight figure as she sits opposite him. In another scene, she goes to the window and is totally engulfed by sunshine for a brief second until she closes the shutters to let him sleep. Inside Maolin and his humdrum existence is hope for dignity, for something better. But it seems so unlikely that he can barely face the possibility. Precisely focused shots draw attention to tiny, grimy detail (often further enhanced by use of 'chiaroscuro' deep-shadows lighting). The grain of wood or the lines on skin, or even fingernails. We feel Maloin's almost invincible acceptance of his lot at a painfully deep level.
Compositions have the breathtaking precision and deliberateness of such Tarkovsky masterpieces as Andrei Rublev, but with the megalithic slowness that is one of Tarr's trademarks.
Apart from forcing us to contemplate much more deeply than we are used to in a world of fast-moving, CGI-enhanced cinema, the slowing-down reveals other interesting effects. In one scene, there is a long, unmoving head-shot of the murderer's wife under questioning. She says nothing for several minutes, but we see the gradual build-up of emotion in her features (the scene is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Screen Tests, which are fortuitously exhibiting in the Edinburgh Festival at the same time as the UK premiere of The Man From London).
The forlorn beauty of The Man From London might inspire you to question the assumptions we make about cinema, instilling a deeper appreciation of the aesthetic possibilities of this wondrous art form. Or you may leave disenchanted, claiming that, however wonderful the characterisation and deep-stage photography exhibition might be, it seems rather less than the sum of its parts. Either way, the coldness of the atmosphere will have eaten into you to such an extent that you long for a bowl of hot soup or a mug of warming coffee. Your body wants to escape the implacable struggles and silences, the constant dirge-like accordion, the austere minimalism, and dialogue designed as much for its audio qualities as its content. And if you do, I hope, like me, you will look back and treasure what you might almost dismiss.
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