Lonely railway worker Maloin leads a simple, humdrum life with his teenage daughter and high-strung wife (superbly played by Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton) at the edge of an infinite sea. He barely notices the world around him, and has already accepted its slow and inevitable deterioration. His inner life is suddenly thrown into chaos after he stumbles upon a deadly business transaction that leaves him with a money-stuffed suitcase and a guilty conscious for a crime he didn t commit. Another existential dazzler from one of cinema s most stunning and austere filmmakers, Bela Tarr s The Man From London is a breathtaking exploration of man s indestructible desire for freedom and happiness.
DVD special features include optional English subtitles, and original theatrical trailer.
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The Man From London is honestly one of my favorite efforts from Bela Tarr, easily on my short list of great directors. It’s been savaged by fans and critics alike, mostly for two reasons. First, it’s the first Tarr film to be exposed to a wide audience upon release. Finally his buzz had reached the point where this film’s premiere was an actual event, so a lot more people who weren’t Tarr fanatics saw it and slammed it. Let’s face it, he’s one of the most divisive directors of all time, and 90% of the general audience would probably walk out of any of his films 5 minutes in.
The second problem is that it’s a really hard film to pin down, even if you are a Tarr lover. The Man From London feels far more consciously experimental than his previous work. Liberated from his native setting of Hungary, he creates a more manufactured sort of reality for his characters. Atmospherics are piled on, almost like the whole movie takes place in some moody landscape painting. My suspicion is that this put his fans off guard from the get go, and resulted in a lower reception. But that’s really what sets it apart in my mind. The mood is so incredibly thick that you can almost literally reach out and cut the fog with a knife while watching. The usual Tarr trademarks are here (endless 10 minute takes, black and white photography, eternally miserable characters), but little touches make this effort surprisingly suspenseful. Several scenes get you used to watching a whole lot of nothing, so when a brawl breaks out in the distance it’s a shock to the system. One crucial event occurs behind closed doors. Several minutes are spent regarding that door, and my breath was held for practically all of them.
Like most films, this one isn’t perfect. One scene involves Maloin buying clothes from two fast-talking tailors whose comic relief is as out of place as an Adam Sandler cameo. It’s the one moment where the film’s mood is totally broken, and it takes a minute or two to get back into the swing of things. Also, a few scenes in the bar seem to contain a cameo from the drunks in Satantango, which is just a bit odd (this might be unintentional, since Tarr uses the same actors to play similar parts in all of this movies). Still, this movie has lived in my memories ever since I first watched it. The opening slow, slow, sloooooooow pan up the front of a ship sets the tone, and by the end of it, I had surrendered to Tarr’s mastery. Two hours later, I was a happy man.