After witnessing a crime during his night shift as railway switchman near the docks, a man finds a briefcase full of money. While he and his family step up their living standards, others start looking for the disappeared case.
One night Maloin, a switchman at a seaside railway station situated by a ferry harbor, witnesses a terrible event. He is just watching the arrival of the last ferry at night from his control room on top of a high iron traverse from where he can see the whole bay. Suddenly he notices that the first of the disembarking passengers, a tall thin figure (a certain Brown as it will turn out later) leaves the harbor, but not on the usual route: after getting through customs, he goes around the dock and then withdraws into a dark corner, waiting. Opposite him, in front of the ship, another man soon appears and throws a suitcase towards the man on the shore. He goes and picks it up, then waits in an dark corner for the other man to join him. When he arrives, however, they begin to quarrel and finally, in the course of the vehement fight, due to a hit that turns out to be fatal, the shorter one falls in the water and sinks, clutching the suitcase in his hand. Maloin is watching the scene, ...Written by
Extensive dubbing was necessary in part because the Steadicam operator Marcus Pohlus was audibly panting and weeping in several scenes. See more »
When Maloin and the bartender set up the chessboard and pieces for their daily game, they place the board with a black square in the lower right corner. (The baseball equivalent would be to have the catcher and batter set up at first base instead of home plate!) See more »
Stylish, visually compelling cinema - an ode to noir
I saw this at a sold-out screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival and was surprised at how good it was, considering I'd heard some negative or indifferent murmurs about it. It goes to show that you never can judge a film until you've seen it yourself. This is my first Béla Tarr film.
The Man From London is clearly a highly stylised homage to film noir of the 1940s. The lush black and white photography, using classic noir shadows and imagery is a feast for the eyes. The camera work is slow, fluid and dynamic, with very long takes in which little seems to happen. Combined with a mesmerising score slightly reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti's sounds on Twin Peaks, a mood of ever-growing suspense and menace is created that powerfully engages from start to finish.
The basic premise of the film is that Maloin, a night harbour worker (played by Miroslav Krobot) witnesses some treachery between a disembarking passenger of a ship (the man in the title) and another man on-shore. A death may have occurred and when Maloin investigates, he becomes involved in an intrigue from which he cannot extricate himself.
Tilda Swinton plays Maloin's wife, though her voice is dubbed over in Hungarian. The film was part-English produced, so maybe a name known to English-speaking audiences was required to market the film. The role was small, and I always find Swinton an interesting actor, so it was a curiosity to see her in this role. In general the tired and worn-out characters looked terrific on film, with a timeless quality that matched the aesthetics of the decaying town.
This is not a film for everyone, as it requires some patience and appreciation for aesthetics over action, and there is not a whole lot of the latter. While the film's major strength is its visuals, they serve to subtly drive the slow-burn suspense. I was surprised when people started walking out of the film, first one by one, then after an hour about twenty or so walked out in unison. I estimate 60 people left, around 10% of the audience. I was equally surprised that so few walked out of Inland Empire (I counted only four, about 1% of the also sold-out screening a few nights earlier).
Still, what's a good film or a good film festival without walk-outs? Many of my favourite films have had them. I have read that this is not one of Tarr's best films. Well, I loved it and must seek out his others.
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