Monday, October 01, 2007

Bela Tarr's The Man from London at the VIFF

People with a taste for serious cinema who do not yet know the work of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr are urged to check out The Man from London (that's a VIFF link, btw - the next screening will be on Friday at the Cinematheque, and is almost sold out; we can hope that it will repeat with other festival favourites at the Vancity Theatre). It's a predictably epic accomplishment, comparable to the greatest works of Antonioni, say, even if it's much smaller in scale than Tarr's previous masterworks, Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango. An adaptation of a Simenon thriller about a briefcase full of cash and the various parties who are feuding over it -- sort of a No Country for Old Hungarians, if you will - the film takes very simple materials, elevates them to the level of high art, and lends a subtly self-reflexive element to them: the money that serves as the Macguffin had been stolen from a cinema, and the initial action of the film identifies our desire and our gaze very strongly with that of a voyeuristic protagonist, whose desire to enter the field of the seen initiates the drama of the film. Any element of "thrill" is drained from the proceedings, however; bleaker than the bleakest of films noir - it makes In a Lonely Place seem a feelgood light entertainment - The Man from London holds us and our protagonist accountable to the last detail for what transpires. Tarr cognoscenti will note a harkening back to themes from his Cassavetes-influenced early film The Prefab People, as well - showing how men are far less morally serious than their suffering and sympathetic (if at times shrewish) wives.

Speaking of women, can someone easily explain Tilda Swinton's presence in the film, by the way? (I haven't really looked around the web - there must be a story here). Though she accomplishes much with her facial features, she really needed more work with her Hungarian before participating in the project; the dubbing was a bit distracting, in a film so meticulously crafted as this.

More information on the film is here - it was a very troubled shoot, during which a producer, I believe, killed himself, so if you're interested, do poke around online. No other film that I've seen thus far in the festival harkens back quite as dramatically to the glory days of European arthouse cinema -- it's filmmaking on the level of Tarkovsky and Bergman, a rare thing nowadays indeed. Not to be watched lightly.

1 comment:

ammacinn said...

Hey, Mark Peranson's name comes up in the discussion of the film here: