The Man From London

The Man From London


The audience settled in for a pristine 35mm print of that crazy auteur Bela Tarr’s film, “The Man From London.” It was fairly crowded for an 8pm show on a Saturday Night on a college campus. The film started with a slow, slow, moving camera tracking up to the top of a boat, where some shenanigans involving a suitcase with money are taking place. This is crisp black and white photography and shot with a mastery of cinematographic technique. And it has all been planned. In fact, the same shot lasts over ten minutes.

And during those ten minutes. Well, not a lot happens. And that might be the problem with all this mastery. Sure, it is a technical feat, but the audience is wondering when the feats of storytelling will take place.

The audience hangs on though, because a crime happens. A suitcase is fished out of the sea by a railway worker after he sees two men struggling for it; one killing the other, and then abandoning the case. There is no drama in this, however, as, well, we are in that same shot in which we started the movie.

So the man gets the case, and the audience readies for the plot as the first shot finally ends. Then we follow him in another long shot as he visits his daughter at work, and then another long shot where he eats dinner, takes off his clothes, and sleeps. In fact, nothing much happens. No tension. No relation to the crime taken place.

Then he goes to a bar where he knows the bartender. The bartender pours him a brew and he walks to a seat where the bartender meets him with a chess board. They lay out the pieces. It was at this point that my girlfriend says, “Oh, no, we’re not going to have to watch an entire game of chess are we?”
No, is I guess the right answer. The camera tracks back to the table next to them, where a dude that looks a bit like George Romero is eating. And…we watch him eat. For a few minutes, we watch him eat. I laughed. So did a few of the audience members. Romero kept eating. Well over half of the audience then left.

They had had enough and evacuated, deciding maybe there was something better to do with their Saturday night. And they are probably right. I love movies that are all about mood and pace, if done right and on the right subject (“Dead Man,” “Seafarer” [or is it sea crab?] “Taste of Cherry,”) and I love films about the cinema and technique (Godard and Paul Thomas Anderson films), but they all have a purpose; some greater pull. It seems all that is here is technique. The mood is slow, but does the story support it?

And it probably is just an evocation of the cinema. Because Bela knows that we are going to anticipate an entire chess game; he has played that way with us. So it IS a joke. Just like another scene where the same Romero looking character is involved in a dance number with a few other folks. He is playing with us.

But the plot, concerning the money, and folks looking to get it back, is too simple. There isn’t much there. And it isn’t compelling. So, how do you get sucked in.

I did enjoy this on some levels; as pure cinema, bits are remarkable, and I must admit I was sucked in (read “suckered in”) by the mood and pace of the piece until I realized it didn’t have much more to offer me. But I can’t recommend it. It is long. And it could have been about twelve minutes.

However, if you want to see “Godzilla” like dubbing, I believe all prints floating around have that. So that’s something.

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