The Man From London
Given Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr’s penchant for prolonged gloomy probings into the nature of human existence (see his 450-minute Satan’s Tango), this adaptation of a lesser-known novel by Belgian crime writer Georges Simenon would seem a perfect fit. Tarr focuses on the inherent existentialism of Simenon’s novel, which concerns a reclusive railway worker named Maloin who’s stationed in a signal box at an unnamed French seaport and whose humdrum life is overturned after he witnesses a murder. The event prompts Maloin (played by Czech actor Miroslav Krobot) to awake from his mechanical existence and undertake actions that lead him inexorably towards his fate. This simple set-up also involves Maloin’s distant wife (Tilda Swinton), the murderer and the titular policeman (Hungarians János Derzsi and István Lénárt). But their roles are not nearly as antagonistic as they would be in an American film noir, and it’s here that Tarr puts his stamp on the material.
Certainly, The Man From London looks like a film noir, with its dockland locations and stark black and white photography by German DOP Fred Kelemen. But Tarr’s unerring focus on Maloin, whether it’s lengthy shots of the man himself or similar longeurs from his point of view, suggest he alone is responsible for his fate. That’s something Simenon might have applauded, but it doesn’t make for engaging cinema. The static pacing is too slow for the film to work as a thriller, existential or otherwise.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release, Fri 16–Mon 19 Jan.