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The Man from London (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 27, 2012

A review of any of the films that made Tarr’s reputation (those from Damnation onwards) is inevitably going to draw from a certain handful of words, so let’s get those out of the way.  Hypnotic.  Texture.  Mood.  Stark.  Bleak.  Slow.  Breathtaking.  Haunting.  Stunning.  Unforgettable.

Okay, that’s done.  I wrote extensively (for me, that is) on this film in my previous review, so forgive me if I repeat myself.  Of Tarr’s last five features, this one is rated the lowest on IMDb.  I believe one factor is Tilda Swinton.  Her name undoubtedly drew in some people who didn’t know what they were in for.  Indeed, if you read the reviews, most of the negative ones sound like those who have never seen another Tarr film.  He’s not for everybody.  I realize the connotation of that phrase is that the people he is for are more special than others.  That is absolutely true.  We are more special.

But there are a couple of shortcomings in the film itself.  The most obvious problem is the dubbing.  Although the dialogue is (of course) sparse, when people do speak it’s very distracting.  Perhaps Tarr intended it to be unnatural, but for a filmmaker whose work is so intensely immersive, you don’t want to be jarred out of it.  It’s also arguably the most plot-driven movie of his later career, which means we ought to hold the story up to greater scrutiny.  And the story isn’t great.  It’s a good, noir-tinged tale, with deeply ingrained misery and dread.  But it isn’t great

Still, one watches Tarr more for atmosphere and humanity thrown into stark relief than for the joys of a good narrative, even when the narrative is more prominent.  And atmosphere-wise, I think it’s right up there with the best of them.  His talent for transforming one shot to another with movement rather than cuts gives the viewer of an uneasy feeling of being a silent observer.  The camera moves like the eye, but far slower and more deliberately.  You suddenly (or gradually) find yourself studying a completely different tableau from where you started.  And the rich cinematography is complemented by eerie sound design and scoring.  Shortcomings be damned, it’s a hell of an experience.

Nonetheless, in my Criticker scores I’m going to bump Damnation up a bit and this one down a bit, leaving it at the bottom of those last five films.  But that’s an amazing run of films and The Man from London is nothing to be wary of for any fan of Tarr’s work.  Rating: Great


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