Saturday, 9 July 2011

Planets

Three spheres, planet, star and satellite, drift in orbit. Each sphere is an avatar for these characters that collide during the course of the film; pre-establishing the eventual relationships between men, linked, physically as well as spatially, by the consequences of a single event.


The Man from London by Ágnes Hranitzky & Béla Tarr, 2007:

Respectively, the three men are the chief protagonist, antagonist and force of moral conscience in the plot of a standard film-noir. Though the machinations of noir are continually dismantled or disrupted by Tarr's languid, observational techniques - which, during the course of the film, reduce moments of potential Hitchcockian suspense and the possibility for Hollywood intrigue to a series of looks, rituals and objects of personal significance - the film nonetheless engages, actively and enthusiastically, with the recognisable tropes of the genre.

Specifically, the motivating factor of greed, and the general fatalistic belief that every action, no matter how seemingly insignificant, carries a greater responsibility.


The scene in which these characters eventually share the screen is significant for the particular way Tarr and Hranitzky emphasise these spherical objects (three in each instance, corresponding with the number of characters on screen) and how this can be seen as relative to the opening sequence of the director's previous film, Werckmeister Harmonies (2000). There, the young misfit János Valuska (Lars Rudolph) enacts a piece of live theatre, in which village drunkards are used as representations of the sun, the moon and the earth in a dramatisation of a solar eclipse.


Werckmeister Harmonies by László Krasznahorkai, Ágnes Hranitzky & Béla Tarr, 2000:

In the earlier film, the demonstration establishes the idea of unexplained natural phenomena. The image of choreographed bodies within a space (defining space) is a prelude to the general descent into chaos and mass-hysteria that follows the arrival of the circus trailer, and the mysterious character called 'The Prince.' Here, the sense of disorder is less cosmic. Instead, the narrative emphasis on the personal downfall of characters stumbling into a situation not entirely beyond their control is more indebted to the necessary conventions of film noir.

It also carries greater philosophical notions pertaining to actions and their consequences. This can be seen in relation to Newton's basic Laws of Motion; "An object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless an unbalanced force acts upon it." Or, more appropriately, "To every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction."

The event - the murder of the mysterious man and the retrieval of the money - represents the unbalanced force, the thing that sends these characters into their gravitational spiral; a fatal collision course that is continually alluded to by the film's production design and the precise way the camera encircles, blocks, traps and reveals these characters, like objects, drifting without recourse, into the chasm of a black hole.

Three spheres, three men...


The Man from London by Ágnes Hranitzky & Béla Tarr, 2007:

The hanging lights, like the objects careening into one another on the snooker table at the beginning of the scene, correspond with the three characters and their place, both within the frame and within the general orbit of existence. Maloin (Miroslav Krobot), the hapless railway pointsman who witnesses the murder and absconds with the cash; Brown (János Derzsi), the possible murderer now left with the impossible task of retrieving the money at all costs; and Morrison (István Lénárt), who claims to be a police inspector from London, pulling the strings for a shadowy conspiracy of forces that exist beyond the periphery of the narrative.

The camera reveals these characters one by one during the course of a conversation; a single fluid movement that establishes Morrison as the centre of this circulatory system of images, pulling the characters of Maloin and Brown ever deeper into the depths of his investigation.

Tarr's blocking of this almost nine-minute sequence is as remarkable as one might expect given the presentation of his previous work. Throughout the conversation, Maloin remains in the background of things. As the camera traverses the trajectory around Brown and Morrison engaging in this moment of narrative exposition, Maloin is clearly visible; an observer on the edges of the frame, sentinel in the sense of being the one person who actually knows where the money is, as well as becoming a substitute for the viewing audience. After all, it is Maloin who witnesses the original murder, thus establishing himself (along with the audience) as the only person really capable of carrying the full weight of responsibility when this sad burlesque reaches its inevitable close.

Tarr and Hranitzky acknowledge this burden in the final shot of Maloin, in close-up, his face pregnant with the anticipation of things to come, a single sphere of light above his head.


The Man from London by Ágnes Hranitzky & Béla Tarr, 2007:

The presentation of this sequence is reminiscent of a similar planetary revelation that occurs towards the end of Fassbinder's fittingly titled In a Year of 13 Moons (1978). In that particular film, Sister Gudrun (Lilo Pempeit) observes the aftermath of a character's death; drifting, unseen, like the camera in Tarr's film, through the wreckage of their extinction. There as well as here the characters drift in orbit; solitary planets incapable of reaching out to anyone for anything; just lost souls that yield to desperation.