The Man From London (2007) dir. Bela Tarr
Starring: Miroslav Krobot, Tilda Swinton
It was black and white day for me at the Festival. After seeing the phenomenal B&W masterpiece, “Control”, my second film of the day was Bela Tarr’s “The Man From London”. Being a fan of “The Werckmeister Harmonies”, I was eagerly anticipating this film. What a disappointment. Even though I expected Tarr’s usual long take, slowed paced, mood-fest, “The Man From London” is terribly overindulgent and as a result disrespectful of its audience.
The opening shot is a long crane shot up the side of a boat at night in a harbour. It’s a shot that moves about 10 feet in about 5 or 6 minutes. Little did I know it would be an indication of the entire film. The story is simple, Miroslav Krobot plays Maloin, a lowly porter who watches over the boats in the harbour. The opening shows from his point of view some sort of criminal deal going down on one of the boats. A man is killed and thrown into the sea, along with some sort of valued briefcase. Maloin retrieves the briefcase, discovering £60,000 cash inside. At home Maloin lives in a tempestuous marriage with his wife (Tilda Swinton), and he disrespects his daughter for showing too much leg at her menial restaurant gig. The shady dealers eventually come snooping around for the money, and Krobot is forced to wrestle away from his predicament. He deviously uses his anonymity to his advantage and conspires to absolve himself of the money and at the same time better himself and his family.
Bela Tarr’s films are all about mood. And “The Man From London” has plenty of it, thick noir-ish Lynchian-worthy mood. He sets the right atmosphere, the music is pitch perfect, and the lighting echoes the great Hollywood and French noir films. Unfortunately Tarr executes the story with an audience-unfriendly snail’s pace. As usual his shots are a series of long 5-10 mins takes. The camera usually starts on a closeup of an object then pulls out, pans and dollies around the room capturing all the dialogue and key information. Sometimes the shots work as cinematic gems, but most times they are tedious exercises in style. His pans and tilts are agonizingly slow, and Tarr needlessly extends each shot by at least 30sec to a minute focusing on a blank sky or some insignificant inanimate object. At times he holds the shot so long it becomes humorous in its audacity. The argument in the restaurant being the prime example, which leaves the actor staring off camera for what seems like an eternity waiting for Tarr to yell ‘cut’.
The final shot reeks of overindulgence. He holds on another closeup of the restaurant owner for a minute in complete silence, then slowly fades to white for another minute of complete silence. When the credits roll, I was finally relieved of my 135 mins of chair-squirming.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Bela Tarr’s talent and love his other films. But “The Man From London” is 'Bela Tarr gone wild' – in the opposite direction.