When his producer died early in production, Hungarian film-maker Bela Tarr fought to reconstruct his Cannes Competition title. Theodore Schwinke reports.
For Hungarian director Bela Tarr, The Man From London is a memorial to the film's late French producer, Humbert Balsan.
Balsan committed suicide in January 2005, two days before the start of principal photography. Tarr's crew had just started building a $2.7m set in Corsica. On hearing of Balsan's death, French bank Coficine froze its funds. Balsan's company was $15.4m in debt and the producer had pledged all rights - even those he had not concluded - to the bank.
After months of negotiations, Tarr eventually settled with Coficine, securing the bank's renewed commitment to the project. He resumed filming in 2006, and wrapped earlier this year. From the time of Balsan's death, Tarr set his sights on a Cannes premiere.
'That's the reason we have to show this movie in Cannes - for his memory,' he explained during the film's shoot. The Man From London screened in Competition on the Croisette last month.
Although Balsan's death complicated the production immeasurably, Tarr considers Balsan to have been a good friend. 'Producers and directors, they are originally like enemies, but Humbert was the first in my life when I didn't feel like he was the enemy. We could speak like two film-makers,' Tarr says.
The $5m film starring Miroslav Krobot and Tilda Swinton is a French-German-Hungarian-UK co-production, shot in French, Hungarian and English. CNC backing for the project required 51% of the dialogue to be in French.
Based on the novel by Georges Simenon, the film is about a signalman at a dockside railway station whose life is transformed when he witnesses a murder. Shot in black and white, The Man From London is an existential film noir of sorts, certainly it is quintessentially Tarr. Reviewers at Cannes were generally impressed but doubted the film's commercial potential.
It is not a worry for the director. He claims he never thinks about his audience from pre-production to post-production.
'I've never made a compromise in my life,' he said. 'I just hope people like it.'
Fortissimo Films has international rights, and has so far secured sales to major territories including the UK (Artificial Eye), Spain (Avalon) and Japan (Bitters End).