The Man From London

The Man From London


Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

From the protracted opening sequence in which the camera lingers menacingly upon the play of light and shadow across the hull of a ship, through to the gradual revelation of the discovery of a murdered corpse which signals the film’s climax, this film from Hungarian director Béla Tarr is a tortuous and weighty affair which demands the utmost patience from the viewer.

Don’t be misled by the fact that this film is based on a thriller by Belgian crime novelist Georges Simenon, as plot is very much a secondary concern here. What plot there is concerns railway switchman Maloin (Miroslav Krobot), who witnesses a murder in the film’s opening sequence and happens to be in the ideal position to see where the murderer hides the money.

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Regarding this as an unmissable opportunity for self-improvement and a better life for his family, he takes the cash before the murderer can come back to the scene of the crime, setting in motion a chain of events which spiral far beyond his control. The other major players in the ensuing drama are Maloin’s wife and daughter, a mysterious criminal named Brown, and a police inspector called Morrision who is charged with recovering the money.

Given that the novel upon which this plot is based was originally a crime thriller, almost entirely dependent on its ability to hook the readership with the twists and turns of the plot, it seems a strange choice of storyline for a filmmaker like Béla Tarr. All the elements are there for the classic caper: stolen money, betrayal, murder, crime, and punishment, but Tarr shows relatively little interest in these motifs, using them rather as a framework upon which to pitch his aesthetic treatise on cinema.

Certainly not a film for the Playstation generation, this is a glacially slow piece of film noir with no sense of urgency and no concession to the noir crime thriller genre upon which it pretends to model itself. I really wanted to enjoy this film but ultimately it is too laboured, too arduous and too long-winded to leave the viewer with any sense of fulfilment. Patience may be a virtue but everyone has their limits and with The Man From London I certainly found mine. Undoubtedly there is some incredible black and white cinematography to be found throughout the film, as Tarr masterfully demonstrates his aesthetic credentials as a director, but in the interminable time it took for each scene to reach its climax, I found the temptation to hit the fast-forward button just too strong to resist.

You are welcome, of course, to argue that I’ve missed the point and that I’m unable to free myself from the conventions of super-slick, high-octane Hollywood cinema to which we’ve all grown accustomed, but the fact is that by overindulging himself Tarr risks alienating his audience completely and turning them against the beauty of his art. The painfully slow, tortuous camera movements would have been much more effective if used sparingly, rather than as a default setting.

This is a film that will polarise opinion between those who regard it as a masterpiece of profound cinematography and those who see it as an unnecessarily laboured, self-important piece of cinema which fails to hold their attention. I’ll leave you to make up your mind on this but I warn you that by the time you’ve finished watching another three feet of the polar ice caps will have disappeared into the ocean!

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2008
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After witnessing a murder, a railway switchman makes a discovery which will change his life forever.
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Chris *****

Director: Béla Tarr

Writer: Béla Tarr and László Krasznahorkai, based on the novel by Georges Simenon.

Starring: Miroslav Krobot, Tilda Swinton, Volker Spengler, Ági Szirtes, János Derzsi, Erika Bók, Gyula Pauer, István Lénárt, Kati Lázár

Year: 2007

Runtime: 132 minutes

Country: France, Germany, Hungary, UK

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