Following 2000's Werckmeister Harmonies, Tarr Béla took a seven-year break before making his next (and penultimate) feature, The Man from London, and this remains the longest break between long-form projects in his career to date (as I write these words he's given no indication that he doesn't intend for his post-2011 retirement to stick, but he also has four full years to change his mind before setting a new record). The only project he made during that time was a five-minute contribution to the 2004 anthology feature Visions of Europe, in which 26 directors made 25 short films, one each from 25 different countries in the European Union, all of the shorts running five minutes and expressing the idea of "European identity" in whatever way the director chose to interpret it (the discrepancy between the number of directors and films is explained by our very subject: as usual, Hranitzky Ágnes was credited as co-author of the piece; as indeed was Vig Mihály, the composer, and for good reason). Tarr's was called "Prologue", which does not as far as I can tell mean that it was the first of the 25 in the film program.

In fact, "Prologue" is a rather fine and vaguely cynical description of the content of the piece. In one take - for the Tarr of 2004, five minutes was hardly even a warm up as far as takes go - the camera tracks left and slightly back along a long, seemingly endless line of haggard men, filmed by Robby Müller (frequent collaborator of Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Lars von Trier, working for the only time with Tarr) - in particularly murky black-and-white to emphasise the grime and despondency of the images. At the end of the line, the camera stops and pans to the left, to squarely face a window where a pleasant-looking young woman hands parcels of bread to each of the patiently waiting hungry men. "Prologue", then, is in reference to the anticipation and waiting around for the best thing to happen, in this case receiving a meager portion of food. No chipper optimist, that Tarr.

The whole thing is so brief and clear-cut that it's barely worth reviewing it as an individual entity, but why bother taking half-steps so close to the end of this Tarr retrospective of ours? Still, the effect is rather blunt - not ineffective, but blunt - and requires little explication. I am unmissably reminded of Alfonso Cuarón's contribution to the 2006 Paris, je t'aime, which was also a single-take tracking shot at a backwards angle (though to the right, and the angle was much more pronounced), which similarly suggests a great director falling back on something he could do in his sleep to quickly add his bit to an anthology film. The difference being that "Prologue" has a definite social point to make and, thanks to the cutting images and the overwhelming (if also, frankly, overbearing) music, it makes it with force. It is the closest thing to a polemic in Tarr's canon after his very earliest anti-Communist dramas, though more poetic; its argument comes less from stating anything (in fact, it is totally devoid of dialogue), than from pushing the fact of starving, desperate, isolated people all gathered together like animals in a pen right against the viewer's face, beating us down by the sheer volume of forgotten men to the point where they can no longer be ignored as some vague "social problem".

It's hardly Tarr's most complex and dynamic work, but for such a minor slip of cinema, it packs a lot of punch. It's not the sort of thing to seek out as a fantastic individual short film, and I rather wish I'd seen it in the whole context of Visions of Europe, where it might have felt less obviously primitive, but it surely gets done what it means to, and does it through wholly visual means. Can't get much more cinematic than that.