Béla Tarr • Director
by Fabien Lemercier
23/05/2007 - The first Hungarian director to be selected in official competition at the Cannes Film Festival since 1988, Bela Tarr, surrounded by his team, revealed some of the secrets behind the making of his film The Man from London [trailer] (see article) at a press conference held yesterday. Selected abstracts.
Cineuropa: What do you feel here in competition at Cannes after all the ups-and-downs that accompanied the production of The Man from London?
Bela Tarr: The worst part was the loss of Humbert Balsan. Not only was it a tragedy for the production, it was also traumatic for us as individuals: we lost a friend, someone who had always fought for cinema. For that reason, we dedicated the film to him. It took us a long time to get the project back on track. Noone jumped ship and in this lousy world we live in this kind of solidarity is heart-warming.
Did you include in the film moral values other than those in Georges Simenon’s novel?
I didn’t want to reproduce exactly what was in the book. Through the main character of Maloin, the film centres on questions of loneliness and temptation. This man is confronted with the fine line that separates innocence and criminal complicity. He has come to the point of having had enough of everything: his isolation, a life without hope and relations with those around him having become almost mechanic. The temptation of a new and better life takes hold of him, but he fails. What is really interesting in this story is not the money in the suitcase, but human dignity.
The film has only 29 shots in just under two and a half hours and opens with 40 minutes that includes only five shots but has endless camera movements. How did you prepare this choreography?
I know perfectly beforehand what I want to do and I plan all the shots several months before production. The composition and the rhythm are determined by the monotony of Maloin’s working day. We constantly follow him and see the world through his eyes. However, the repetition of his comings and goings takes on a new form with the growing tension and everything gradually changes. I wanted the camera to move all the time and seek out faces, especially eyes, and follow all the signs of meta-communication. Compared to my previous films, I think that I am gradually approaching a pure type of cinema. Aside from the script, we concentrate on the individual and we use his eyes, ears and heart to capture with his soul something human.
In The Man from London, atmosphere plays a very important role. Has this got something to do with your Eastern European roots?
It’s not about geography, but sensitivity. We all have a social sensitivity, each humiliation hurts us and each person who can’t have a satisfying life suffers, no matter where he lives. And the same is true in my film, the place (the Corsican town of Bastia) is just as important as the characters with the sea and the port in the background. Also I don’t think the film is sad, rather it shows a reality that has to be taken in account. The simple fact of making a film is a sign of optimism. The film ends with a close-up of a face, a quite significant detail in my opinion.