Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Man From London (2007)

WHO: Béla Tarr co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with his longtime writing partner László Krasznahorkai, and co-directed the film with his (nearly) career-long editor and collaborator Ágnes Hranitzky.

WHAT: Though The Man From London may be generally considered the least successful of the five films made by the Tarr/Hranitsky/Krasznahorkai team, it's still an important work, if only for its place in a body of work that, if Tarr's 2011-announced retirement from directing in favor of schoolmaster duties continues to hold up, will not increase in size. But it's got a tremendous amount of merit even apart from its place in an ouevre or three (or four, if we count critical collaborator composer Mihály Víg, whose contribution to The Man From London in the form of two alternating melodies that were played during the filming of each take, in the tradition of silent filmmakers and Federico Fellini.) Each shot is meticulously planned and performed by the cast and crew, each a mini-narrative that compounds to construct a perhaps less-important meta-narrative. As Tarr told Michael Guillén during an interview:
I'm always listening for the characters and the personalities of the actors. For me, the most important thing is to show you how they are living, how it goes for them in their real life, and how they communicate. Normally, it's mostly eye contact. If you watch someone's eyes for a long time, it's not necessary to use any words because you will begin to understand and will see what is happening. You can see what is happening inside because his or her eyes will tell you and show you.
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at the Pacific Film Archive at 7:00.

WHY: The PFA's summer calendar is wrapping up this weekend, with The Man From London capping off a Georges Simenon series filled with French, American and Japanese filmmaker riffs on the French detective novelist as well as this unorthodox Hungarian take. Tomorrow and Saturday match the final two features in the venue's Alfred Hitchcock silent series (Easy Virtue and The Manxman) with the final two in its Jacques Demy retrospective (the Young Girls of Rochefort and the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, both encore showings). Barely missing a beat, the PFA will close Sunday and its usual Monday and Tuesday and then re-open next week with the launch of its Alternative Visions series of experimental film and video work, of the rest of a classic Chinese cinema selection, and of a sampling of classic noirs and Westerns populated by character actor Wendell Corey.

I unfortunately was unable to attend any of the Simenon offerings up to now, but I'd like to go tonight, as although I last saw The Man From London a little over a year ago, Tarr/Hranitzky films don't play that often on Frisco Bay, and last summer's Roxie booking wasn't enough to push this film's lifetime tally of local 35mm showings past what you can count using two handfuls of fingers.

Noir may have been named by the French and partly inspired by writers like Simenon, but most of us think of it first and foremost as a Hollywood phenomenon. Therefore, non-American films that may fit the noir style don't get the same frequency of and devotion to in-cinema screens as their counterparts made in the familiar countries of RKO, Universal, Columbia, Republic, etc. So it's wonderful that this PFA series had both foreign and Hollywood films rub elbows. Both the Roxie's annual I Wake Up Dreaming series and the Castro's Noir City focus almost all their attention on American titles, so it's welcome that another venue steps in to fill in a more global context.

But Noir City, at least, has been moving in the direction of branching outside of U.S. borders in its programming; last year ago the festival showed British Bedelia as a comparison to an American classic written by Very Caspary, Laura. Earlier this year the festival held it's first all-British double bill, a Hell Drivers/Night of the Demon pairing of films featuring festival guest Peggy Cummins. And one of the highlights of the festival, though in English, based on an American novel, and featuring some American actors and Chicago locations, was an Argentine production directed by a Frenchman, Native Son.

The Noir City Film Festival has just revealed its 2014 dates via a brand-new poster. Mark your calendar for January 24-February 2, and expect to hear more at a Noir City X-Mas event (won't they ever run out of Christmas-themed noirs to show?) I don't know if the poster image and font it meant to indicate a further branching out on the festival's part, but I have to admit that it's got me thinking back to previous suggestions that Noir City has its eyes on expanding its reach to include more foreign films. I think Noir City audiences are ready to read some subtitles. And if they're not now, perhaps they will by January.

HOW: 35mm print from IFC Films.

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