Less film noir than film froid, Bela Tarr's adaptation of George Simenon's novel has been criticised for subordinating narrative and character development to so many meditative set pieces, but this doesn't make it that different from Tarr's previous output, it just draws his signature into starker and more surprising relief. It also completes noir's yearning towards a pure optical situation - or, alternatively, fulfills the legacy of 1930s poetic realism, which it condenses to the dockside where pointsman Maloin (Miroslav Kabut) witnesses a murder. Although Simenon's narrative goes on to describe, in some detail, how Maloin responds to this event, Tarr reduces his reaction to a series of cryptic interactions with his wife (Tilda Swinton) and daughter (Erika Bok), and seems more interested in reenacting than analysing, continually returning to the signal-box where Maloin works, and where the first, longest, and most spectacular scene of the film occurs. In possibly the finest shot of his career, Tarr elaborates the entire vantage point of the signal box, which takes in the sidewalk along one side of the dock, the dock itself, as well as the ship berthed in it, and the train line and locomotive beside it, with a glacial elasticity that recalls and slows the treatment of the town square in The Stranger, and translates his taste for repetition and sameness into a more compositional register than any of his previous films. This may explain the extraordinary brevity of the film - it's only ninety minutes, a mere couple of shots by Tarr's standards - as well as the remarkable, almost unbelievable compositions, certainly the most beautiful in his career, and arranged, syntactically, around an overexposed, unprecedented blackness, and windows; or, rather, the single window that drives the mystery of the film. If there's any fault, it's that a narrative performed by Hungarian actors about French and English characters requires a fair amount of dubbing - and while Tarr draws on his consummate gift for disembodying and distributing speech, there's a couple of monologues that are so central that it feels as if it would have been better simply to keep the whole film in Hungarian and subtitle it. Extended dialogue has never been Tarr's strength or interest, and with this additional factor, the last third can feel - extraordinarily - cosmetically slow, but it's nevertheless an extraordinary achievement for a film that was so plagued with shooting and funding difficulties, as well as a peculiarly striking instance of the always welcome willingness of an auteur to embark on a genre film.