Coming seven years after the release of Werckmeister Harmonies — and delayed due to notorious production problems, including the suicide of a producer and myriad funding disasters — Hungarian master Béla Tarr’s The Man From London will likely arrive as a disappointment for arthouse fanatics expecting an epic on the scale of Werckmeister or Tarr’s masterpiece, that seven-hour odyssey in despair, Satantango. Only two-plus hours and containing a lean noir plot drawn from Georges Simenon’s same-titled novel, London’s “minor” status virtually guarantees it won’t receive the same kind of love given to prior Tarr. Which is too bad, since it’s nothing less than a triumph.
London’s relative succinctness and generic simplicity constitute virtues, refashioning Tarr’s worn, dissipated characters as chiaroscuro’d castaways from a cheap crime drama, divested of pulp familiarity and imbued with the director’s trademark entropic angst. Time is of the essence in Tarr, and London’s temps mort long takes — especially a virtuoso opening shot that climbs a watchtower to survey illegal activity from ever-changing panopticonal viewpoints — expand the familial and moral conundrums of implicated dock worker Miroslav Krobot until the film becomes a grand meditation on the helplessness of fate, narrow in focus yet deep in mood, texture and humanity.