EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|MAN FROM LONDON, THE (aka: A LONDON FERFI) (directors: Bela Tarr/Agnes Hranitzky; screenwriters: from the novel L'homme de Londres by Georges Simenon/Laszlo Krasznahorkai/Bela Tarr; cinematographer: Fred Kelemen; editor: Agnes Hranitzky; music: Mihály Vig; cast: Miroslav Krobot (Maloin), Tilda Swinton (Camelia), Agi Szirtes (Mrs. Brown), Janos Derzsi (Mr. Brown), Erika Bok (Henriette), Gyula Pauer (Tapster), István Lénárt (Police Inspector Morrison), Kati Lázár (Butcher's Wife); Runtime: 130; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Humbert Balsan/Christoph Hahnheiser/Paul Saadoun/Gabor Teni/Joachim von Vietinghoff; Artificial Eye; 2007-Hungary/France/Germany-French/English with English subtitles)|
arty film noir."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Acclaimed Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr ("Werckmeister
Harmonies"/"Satantango"/"Damnation") took four years to bring to the
screen the minor 1934 pulp-mystery novel L'homme de
Londres by the Belgian writer Georges
Simenon, as there were breaks in the filming. It's co-written by novelist Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Tarr, while German
Kelemen (a former
student of Tarr's) uses long tracking shots and shoots from a camera
below eye level. The sparse dialogue, almost no talking for the first
ten minutes, makes the b/w pic almost seem like a silent film in its
long pauses and deliberate pace.
The gloomy tale, that
dehumanizes the lead characters to the point we could care less about
them, attempts to explore man's greed, desires and sense of justice by
inducing a meditation on images. This type of filming makes for a
unique metaphysical arty film noir. It focuses on an uptight and
brusque middle-age man, who for the first-time in his life must
confront his hopeless sense of being after witnessing a murder and
becomes rattled when he goes against his conventional life to make a
daring but morally wrong decision. The simplistic robbery and murder plotline
is easily forgettable, even if Tarr's unusual take on such a dark tale
is not. This is at least the third stab at putting the unimpressive
Simenon short story on film, and Tarr's version is vastly different
(not necessarily better) than the other versions.
Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) is a withdrawn, laconic,
switchman working the nightshift from a box type of workplace located
above the railroad tracks along a foggy fictional French port – Bastia in Corsica, by the English Channel. He
witnesses from his work station, where he remains in isolation, almost
as if he were in prison, an Englishman thief, Mr. Brown (Janos Derzsi), dispatch overboard into the sea his Englishman accomplice, Teddy, after a
scuffle on the ship, and then watches him toss a suitcase onto the
dock. The switchman retrieves
the cash-filled suitcase left behind, the object of the robbery, and
instead of reporting the incident to the police, he sees this as a
chance to make a better life for himself. Maloin is a sad-eyed depressive who is
imprisoned by a dull routine life and locked into a loveless marriage
of 25 years to his wife Camelia
(Tilda Swinton). He hopes his gentle daughter Henriette (Erika Bok), who he brow-beats, could at least have
better prospects than being a cleaning woman – a
job he forces her to quit when he finds the money.
When the wily police
inspector from London, Inspector Morrison (István
arrives the next day and in his investigation explains to all parties
concerned that the Saturday night robbery victim, theater owner
Mitchell, expresses a willingness to settle things on the quiet and
will not press charges if the money, some £ 60 thousand, is returned. There will also
be a reward tossed in when the money is returned intact. The
guilt-ridden Maloin, not a
criminal type, begins to freak out and act strangely insulting to his
family. Maloin also arouses the suspicion of the family
man Brown, leading a secretive life as a criminal, who trails him after
escaping from the policeman. When the inspector questions Maloin in his
work station, he makes the switchman nervous.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
It ends with the anti-hero
Maloin forced to accept himself as a failure, who can only return to
his imprisoned civilian life realizing that he doesn't have it in him
to escape the destiny he created for himself and returns the money
after he kills Mr. Brown. After surrendering to the inspector, he's
surprised that he's cleared of the manslaughter charge – ruled by the detective a case of
self-defense. Both Maloin and the devastated Mrs. Brown (Agi Szirtes) are given a small reward by the
inspector, as if too soothe their feelings for their loss of their
loved one or the stolen loot. The enigmatic tragic amoral ending is as
far from a fairy-tale (Hollywood) happy ending as possibly could be.
It boils over as a piece on moral ambiguity
(with an unclear ending that remains too open-ended for its own good),
that's intriguingly mysterious but not completely successful because
Tarr seems out of his usual elements in this existentialist noir
setting even if he tosses in some of his familiar concerns over the
abuses of authority, entropy, the weariness of ordinary life and man's
restless nature causing his loss of innocence. There's also the matter
of Tilda being dubbed into Hungarian and the many other dub jobs for
the international cast from Hungarian into French with English
subtitles, giving the pic a weird feel to it as to language and place.
Mihaly Vig's haunting score
helps establish the pic's nightmarish mood, as the atmospheric pic
tries to get by on atmosphere alone to sell this miserable tale about
its character's being unable to change their destiny even when
opportunity knocks. Though it's visually hypnotic and its unusual style
can be alluring, it nevertheless falters because the plotline is not
much and the characters are too undeveloped to make the film shine in
all the darkness.
REVIEWED ON 1/13/2011 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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