The Man from London (2007) - Simenon turns out to be a perfect source for such a stately paced, cryptically blank film. (The novel was filmed in France in 1943 and England in 1947 and appears to have been translated into English under the title Newhaven-Dieppe though that's a bit unclear.) The manager or maybe just a watchman at the docks sees a man assaulted and later recovers his briefcase full of money. The manager starts acting oddly, an insurance investigator shows up and that's about it. Bela Tarr, like Simenon, doesn't deal with psychologizing, with drawing connections or making explanations. Characters act while Tarr observes. And observes and observes - the most striking thing about the film is the very long takes where the most minute things happen or maybe just nothing at all. This is the type of film that when two people sit down to play chess you think we'll have to watch the entire game played in real time. Fortunately Tarr isn't that much of a conceptualist - staring out a window at people leaving a ship for several minutes is one thing, watching a chess game is apparently a step too far. Tarr handles this to fit the story though at this point it's hardly groundbreaking since numerous commentators have pointed out that this long-take style has become something of a default setting for many art-film directors. In fact the most out-of-place element of the film is Tilda Swinton's screeching histrionics, possibly a deliberate contrast or possibly just Tarr not wanting to tie down the closest to a name star in the film.
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) - This earlier film is something different. If Tarr didn't seem so completely humorless I'd think this was a parody of Eastern European Art Film complete with black-and-white images, downtrodden local citizens, out-of-place weirdness (a whale!), heavy-handed politics, unexplained events and an overall feel of dour malaise. Except of course that parodies are meant to be if not funny that at least amusing and this is a real chore to sit through. At two and a half hours I'd think that even if you considered this a successful film that it's still overly long. It doesn't even start promising. The first scene is some men in a bar replicating the movement of planets in a type of dance and this goes on and on and on. The point eludes me (maybe to show it's a deterministic universe?) and it has no charm. The film never recovers though admittedly there's a nice sequence of a kind of riot towards the end with a fantastic overhead tracking shot of a moving crowd. It's based on a novel by Laszlo Krasznahorkai who also wrote the source for Satantango (which I haven't seen though the English translation of the book just appeared and it looks like you could read it in far less time than it takes to watch the movie).
The US home video release of The Turin Horse (2011) is in July. Tarr claims that this was his final film and descriptions make it sound like a variation of Au Hasard Balthazar only featuring the horse whose suffering pushed Nietzsche over the edge. Chuckles for all!