Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Béla Tarr
Starring: Miroslav Krobot, Tilda Swinton, János Derzsi, Erika Bók, István Lénárt
Duration: 139 min.
A man whose lonely life at the edge of the sea has become as predictable as the tide, witnesses a murder that sends him on an existential journey, the likes of which he could never have anticipated.
The Man From London is a film directed by Béla Tarr with co-director and editor Ágnes Hranitzky, based on a novel by Georges Simenon. It premiered in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
Once again Tarr starts his film with a long and instantly memorable opening shot. It's a fifteen plus minute triumph in cinematography, that is framed, lit, timed and tracked to perfection. With the camera looking out of an elevated control room of a small Corsican pier in the darkness of a misty night, lit only by a few streetlamps. Here we watch as the camera floats about from its vantage point, first methodically capturing the large hull of a docked ferry from the mainland, then moving up to the deck where two dark figures mysteriously conspire in hushed tones.
The camera never stops moving in Tarr's trademark slow and steady fashion, panning to the right to show travelers leaving a ship and then boarding a train that then pulls away from the station, and then to the left again to reveal another familiar Tarr sight, a look at our character Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) from behind, seated and hunched over his desk. Sounds of commotion outside urge him from his seat to investigate, and we can see off in the distance two men struggling over a briefcase until one falls into the drink. The remaining figure then walks away empty handed and enters the local pub.
We then watch Maloin head down to the end of the pier where he fishes the briefcase out of the water and brings it back to his post where he opens it to reveal a large stack of cash. The remainder of the story follows him confront his guilt over taking the money, while also trying to avoid the various parties who are searching for the case. Like his other films, the story is a simple premise that he uses only as a loose structure to build his majestic scenes around.
The slight problem is, at this point we sort of get the feeling that he has run out of new cinematic ideas to show us. With Damnation, Satantango, and Werckmeister Harmonies, it was evident that each one built and refined on the style and vision of the previous one. The Man From London doesn't break any new ground and at times feels like Tarr just rehashing himself. For example there's a dancing scene at the pub that looks like something he's already done many times before, and each of those previous ones were done better and actually contributed significantly to the narrative in their own ways. Maybe this was just an opportunity to cast some of his old friends having fun, but the scene feels out of context here.
The other issue I had with this was with the awful post dubbing. It was filmed using a cast of international actors, including Tilda Swinton in a tiny but intense and role, who all performed their lines in their own native languages that were then dubbed into English and French. The result is the dialog heard almost never exactly matches the lip movement seen, which is rather distracting.
Not to say that this is a poor effort by any means, it's just that anything was bound to be a let down after the incredibly high bar set by Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango. I still would not hesitate to put this alongside the best work of basically anyone else working today. Tarr is truly the master at showcasing astonishing beauty from within the bleak.
— Bonjour Tristesse