Beating the Tarr Out of Cinema

The Museum of Modern Art, bless them, is offering a series of one-week runs to several interesting films that failed to find distributors. The first of these, Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema, directed by film critic Todd McCarthy, has a couple more days to run. It's an ode to the kind of cinephilia that is almost dead, a community feeling that can only be felt when a group of people attend a screening of a great film. You don't get it sitting by yourself in the living room with the DVD player. Rissient himself is a slightly enigmatic figure who began as a film buff and ended up as a distributor, director and consultant to many important film festivals (including Cannes). McCarthy tells this story through a combination of interviews with Rissient himself and many, many famous filmmakers who he has shepherded through the shoals of European film distribution and exhibition. The film itself is a bit too long (I could have done without the guided tour of Rissient's hometown), and pitched to a tiny group of people like me, but if you are reading this blog, you will probably get a kick out of it.

Today, the Museum is premiering Bela Tarr's most recent film, The Man From London. I reviewed that one here, when it played last year's New York Film Festival, appropriately enough, and here's what I said back then:

The Man From London (Bela Tarr). This could be the Bela Tarr film for people who hate Bela Tarr; it’s an adaptation of a Georges Simenon novel, shot in gorgeous black-and-white by Fred Keleman, a modern-day noir without the smartass cynicism that has disfigured most of the neo-noirs. In short, it’s a real throwback to the moody, fate-drenched worlds of Lang and Wilder in the ‘40s and, at slightly over two hours should be accessible enough for anyone.

What hasn’t changed about Tarr, and what I love about his films, is the slow unfolding of screen space and the extraordinary care with which he uses camera movement to explore his visual universe. The opening shot of The Man From London is a masterpiece of slow disclosure, encapsulating the entire plot in a seven- or eight-minute take that links a ship at the docks, a control tower, two little jutting pieces of land and the city of Bastia, a desolate harbor town. We see a man toss a bag of smuggled money off the ship and two men fight over the loot, all from the point of view of Maloin (Miroslav Krobut0, a shabby, exhausted railroad worker. Once he inserts himself into this drama, things can only go from bad to worse in typical noir fashion, but Tarr works out this tale of retribution and redemption with the pitiless inevitability of Fritz Lang, tempered by the compassion of Jean Renoir and illustrated by his own trademark gliding camera movements and well-concealed sense of humor. This may be Tarr’s most accomplished film to date, not an omnium-gatherum with the power of Satantango perhaps, but a shrewd usurping of genre prerogatives for his own purposes. An undeniably great film by one of the best working filmmakers in the world today.

I seem to be the only critic in New York who likes the film, but MoMA is impervious to such petty considerations -- hey, they fill the place regardless of what films they're showing, right? So you have a week in which to see it and, by all means, do so.


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