The Man From London (2007)


“A londoni férfi”

General Information:

All information below is taken from the following link:

15     139 min  –  Crime | Drama | Mystery  –  31 January 2008(Hungary)


Béla Tarr; Ágnes Hranitzky


Béla Tarr; László Krasznahorkai


Miroslav Krobot; Tilda Swinton; Ági Szirtes


Maloin observes a large quantity of money thrown into the sea and a man being killed. Following this he experiences a profoundly intense existential crisis.


How can I describe The Man From London? It seems almost impossible. It is an extraordinary film, which is, because it shows us everything, but ultimately tells us nothing. It works as a suspense film without any suspense. A suspense film is a film that shows us all the events of the film – Bela Tarr takes this conceit and twists it to his own style of filmmaking. The film uses its camera as if it were God, purveying the scene: we move from one character to the next, we see their faces, their reactions and hear all lines of dialogue. Yet we know nothing about the characters. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know their motivations. Ultimately, we see all the events of the film, but we know nothing about why they are committed. Thus, the film is the purest form of mystery. However, the characters transcend ‘character’ into being humans. It is as if we are watching them live. Bela Tarr has a way of filming actors which accentuates and naturalises their performances – he draws out the intensities of the character’s inner turmoil as well as making what we are seeing feel totally convincing and completely real.

The film essentially opens with the main character, Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) see a suitcase thrown over the board of the ship, and a man murdered by being pushed into the icy black water. The murderer walks away, and the camera pans round watching him walk off, the seconds pass and we just gaze at Maloin’s unsettled facial expressions. He has just witnessed a life being taken…yet everyday life continues, time refuses to stop and the world is nonplussed and utterly indifferent. Later on, Maloin steals the suitcase. Perhaps this has been the only thrill in his life. Who knows? We don’t even know what he’s thinking, we can only guess by his facial expressions.

In a sense, Maloin is the perfect character for an existential drama such as this. He is a railway signalman. His job simply consists of sitting there for hours on end, occasionally pulling levers and staring out of his window, watching strangers who he’ll only ever see once walk past and get into the train and then leave. He quite literally sees life go by, and nobody recognises his existence. He is a voyeur which nobody sees. Yet he was also the voyeur of a crime. At first the crime almost seems like a normal event to Maloin. He appears to be distressed, but mainly nonchalant to what he has witnessed. Yet the film has progressed, and the strange guilt (for simply seeing an event) stirs up and builds inside of him. He takes it out on the rest of the world. The world that does not care for his sheer existence, not even his wife and daughter.

Have I also emphasised how just incomprehensibly mad the film is. In usual circumstances, how the character’s react to situations and the sheer situations themselves, you’d be sitting up at the screen tutting due to its sheer implausible madness. Not here though. The film takes itself so seriously, and the glacial pacing just makes all the madness seem normal. It’s as if the sheer absurdity of life becomes some kind of theatrical satire, but with the laughs and irony replaced with sheer misery and trudging droll organ-music. The film involves a sequence in a pub involving a strange dance with a snooker ball and a chair. The film aesthetically, looks as if it should be set in the 30s or 40s, but hang on, aren’t those modern day £20 and isn’t the an LCD cash-machine being used? The film involves a sequence where Maloin and his wife have an argument over Maloin buying, out of all the things to buy, a grotesquely ridiculous mink stole. Although, perhaps Tarr has struck on something here: if the madness of the events is supposed to be taken seriously, is Tarr making a comment on how the most disturbing act of everyday existence being the notion that nothing of consequence is ever done, nothing meaningful. I believe the existentialists would have called this an “inauthentic existence”.

On a technical level, the film is perfection. Like most Bela Tarr films, it is shot with exquisite precision. The camera glacially moves smoothly past structures of buildings and around characters, observing everything. The lighting is stark, using sharp contrasts between dark and light creating interesting effects and powerful shadows. And then there’s Tilda Swinton. She gives an excellent performance. She is able to convey intense emotions (such as rage, despair and grief) yet making them feel utterly convincing as opposed to melodramatic. But then again, all of the performances in this film are of the highest standards. The actors for the most part simply stare into the distance. All of the emotions is conveyed in their eyes, and the feelings simply seep through slowly, yet intensely. They don’t act, they are.


Who knows what the film means? Ultimately it is all down to interpretation. But what can be said is what we are left with is not only technically excellent, but atmospherically genius. Unsettling, challenging and profound, this film will stay with you well after viewing.

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