Et tu, Béla Tarr? After delivering such staggering existential epics as Sátántangó (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), maybe it’s foolish to think that the Hungarian filmmaker could equal those achievements by adapting a pulp-mystery novel by Georges Simenon. But it’s not just that this tale of a railway employee (Krobot) and some stolen loot doesn’t produce the reverie of those earlier works. Rather, the movie is a textbook example of what happens when an ill-fitting combination of an author’s work and an art-house giant’s aesthetic creates nothing but a void.
Which isn’t to say that The Man from London won’t please, at least superficially, those who dig Tarr’s style. The film is filled with his signature moves—those incredible long takes, the gliding tracking shots that follow a walking figure from behind, the mixture of sumptuous black-and-white visuals and a moody Eurodirge score. (It’s impossible to overestimate the contributions of both cinematographer Fred Kelemen and composer Mihály Vig.) But there’s no connection between the exquisite form and the crime-fiction content, with the hero’s barely suggested sense of moral ambiguity serving as a poor substitute for stalling narrative momentum. Someone like Camus could pull such things off; Tarr can’t, possibly because he’s too busy inexplicably dubbing Tilda Swinton’s voice into Hungarian.
Cast and crew