Combustible Celluloid
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With: Miroslav Krobot, Tilda Swinton, Ági Szirtes, János Derzsi, Erika Bók
Written by: Bela Tarr, László Krasznahorkai, based on a novel by Georges Simenon
Directed by: Bela Tarr
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Hungarian with English subtitles
Running Time: 132
Date: 05/23/2007

The Man from London (2008)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Curious Suitcase

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Bela Tarr's The Man from London came late in the festival and probably caused a few exhausted patrons to emerge scratching their heads, but it's vintage: all Tarr and no feathers.

Tarr adapted it from a novel by Georges Simenon (Monsieur Hire, Red Lights, etc.), but has no apparent interest in building a mystery or suspense. Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) works nights as a switchman at the waterfront. From his perch one night, he spies a shady deal involving a suitcase. Two men struggle over the suitcase, and one falls to his death in the sea. Maloin retrieves the suitcase and finds that it's full of money. Meanwhile a London detective shows up searching for the money, but Maloin becomes more interested in his daughter, whom he believes is being exploited in her job.

Tarr kills traditional suspense with his long takes, but instead builds up a new kind of fascination; we're able to scrutinize faces and places. Tarr also moves his camera in wide circles, slowly revealing crucial information and changing the tone of a scene within one shot (the opening shot in particular is a stunner).

As with other Tarr films, it's filmed in stark, moody black-and-white and many actors are dubbed (the film is mostly in French and English). Tilda Swinton co-stars, but is dubbed into French. I loved it, but it'll be some weeks before I can make heads or tails of it. (Reviewed at the San Francisco International Film Festival.)

In 2012, Zeitgeist Films finally released this on DVD (but no Blu-Ray). The transfer is tricky, since it looks like low-budget black-and-white film, heavy on the blacks, but the DVD does an admirable job of capturing the experience. The only extra is a trailer.

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