Bwog Review: “The Man From London” at the NYFF
Written by Bwog Staff
As the New York Film Festival comes to a close, Bwog contributor Christian Kamongi gives his take on one of the films that may soon hit a theater near you.
The Man From London (Official Selection for Competition at the 60th Annual Cannes Film Festival and the 45th New York Film Festival)
Release Date: The Man From London is currently without a distributor.
Synopsis: A night watchman Maloin discovers a murder take place and retrieves the suitcase of the victim.
As far as Bela Tarr is concerned, no other contemporary filmmaker has drenched his work in such chromatic disparities. He has repeatedly adapted chiaroscuro with a haunting mobility, ultimately creating an effect with black and white as expressive in its strikingly multifarious tones as a Technicolor picture. Unfortunately, his latest project underlies his mastery in the earlier referred to areas but fails on a narrative level to match his previous work. Where is the haunting poignancy of Damnation, the sweeping personal historicity of Satantango, or apocalyptic humanism of The Werckmeister Harmonies ? Luckily for Tarr, this is one of the few substantial criticisms that can be leveled against the feature, and it’s more a disappointment than it is a criticism.
For most viewers, even the most hardened adherents to art-house ethos, Tarr is a no go, his takes last as long as Jancsó and Angelopoulos without the splendidly crafted mobility or weighty storylines, the lack of action in his features would put The Brown Bunny to shame. In fact, if you were wondering why Gus van Sant decided to undertake his recent Death Trilogy (Elephant, etc.) it was done as largely a homage to Tarr. I was displeased to be reminded of the popular view of Tarr during the screening of the feature when about one-tenth of the audience walked out. My comrades’ first warning was the first scene in which Tarr takes thirty-five minutes to display what most films do in thirty five seconds. The camera epically pans up a ship, with a proximity to its haul that creates a surreal effect that almost leads to the viewer discerning that this is not a ship as much as it is a dance between light and darkness perfectly splintered.
Once we arrive on the deck we witness a conversation between two individuals exchanging suitcases, as the action plays out one of the men is murdered. Our protagonist Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) witnesses the murder and swoops in to fetch the suitcase, which he later discovers contains 64,000 in English pounds. The unconventionality of Tarr is immediately present when we spend more time watching Maloin dry the money (wet from the suitcase having been dropped in the sea) then reveling in what turns out to be his non-existent excitement. Of course the suitcase belongs to someone else but it’s absolutely stunning how little of the film is dedicated to what would usually be some sort of sensational rat race between the wrong man and the crime lord. Instead the film operates in reflective tones as we discover that Maloin’s relationship to the newly discovered goods is less a cause for joy than a questionable form of exit from boredom. Of course, Tarr’s cinematographic sophistication is perfectly molded for the desperation and spiritual nausea that plague Maloin and his family, we occasionally see him fight with his wife (Tilda Swinton, given far too little screen time), playing chess at the pub, or scolding his daughter (Erika Bok, who you may remember from Satantango).
Problematically, though, between the murder scene and the film’s conclusion there seems to be an occasional note of visual eloquence and profundity in a vast space full of long takes and short in dynamism. There are various reasons for this, primarily the film lacks the presentation of a meaningful context which usually serves to legitimize Tarr’s austere approach to what he refers to as “pure cinema.” A feature of this lacking context is the puzzling setting (I was amused to hear the individuals behind me argue about whether or not Hungary even has access to a coast-it doesn’t) we are never aware were this story takes place and if takes place in an émigré Hungarian community in a British seaside town Tarr doesn’t do a very good job of proving it. For a film so largely concerned with the exploration of its own surrounding (the personal, the geographical, and the historical) their seems to be a restricted understanding of it but then again what a luminous surrounding it is.