“[W]e don’t translate literature into film; rather, we translate literature back into life.” — Béla Tarr, discussing his film from Georges Simenon’s L’homme de Londres
A londoni férfi, in French and English, involves a wee-hours fight between two men on a dock that ends in a drowning death—and the loss of the case in which stolen money is stacked. Long-shots correspond to switchman Maloin’s view from his office in the railway station tower. Maloin retrieves the case from the water; the dreamily indefinite scene of docked ferry, dock, tracks and train in darkness yields to the specificity of the British notes, each of which Maloin dries once back inside.
Brilliantly directed by Hungary’s Béla Tarr, with editor and life-partner Ágnes Hranitzky credited as co-director, the black-and-white film opens with one of Tarr’s amazing shots; the camera very slowly scales the ferry, beginning at the hull, through the window that provides Maloin with his godlike view; intermittently strips of black—lattice—interrupt this view. The camera’s ascent ironically correlates to a descent into the waters of Maloin’s corruptible soul.
Maloin, beautifully acted by Miroslav Krobot, is a complex, sympathetic figure—a proud man long shoehorned into an unhappy, humiliating life; he now grapples with his guilt. Atypically, inexplicably, he starts to rage against wife and daughter.
Initially, the camera perspective forges an identification between us and Maloin; as we watch his return with the case, from the vantage of his office, however, we separate from him. Those calling the film a film noir mistake style for genre; noirs explore an amoral or immoral world, but the one here is hardly that. Past the point of identifying with Maloin, we bring moral consideration to his world—Maloin’s own latent morality, which eventually surfaces.
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