Review ♦ ♦ ◊ ◊ ◊
The Man From London has been billed as a beautiful, haunting reimagining of a Georges Simenon hard-boiled detective thriller. The opening scene is almost twenty minutes in length in which the camera slowly and ominously pans back and forth across a harbour as a murder begins to take form. It is an undeniably immersive beginning.
The dated, shaded clothing of the protagonists as their crime plays out, the chiaroscuro of the streetlights on cobbled streets, the swirling inky-black of the water, the creak of the boats and the grating pulse of the trains- all these elements combine to create a cinema of pure, viscous black and white.
It is reminiscent of watching a snake waiting to strike its prey- you become hypnotized by the anticipation of the strike but, frustratingly, it never comes.
The opening shot is actually a point-of-view shot of the harbour master. In true noir style, he manages to nick a bag of swag and go on the run from the shady bad guys in the sharp suits. As the plot thickens, the question arises of how low this normal man is willing to go, how much he is willing to compromise his domesticated lifestyle, and how much he cares about it anyway.
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of noir, was once asked what makes a great film. “A great story, a great story and a great story” he replied. This could be a thrilling film, but it quickly becomes apparent that any notion or even suggestion of plot is subordinate to the creation of atmosphere. It has a timeless quality and an ethereal, sinister edge with obvious references to absurdist and surrealist cinema but precious little substance with which to hang on to.
Director Bela Tarr is obviously an assured and technical film-maker but she hasn’t got a commerical bone in her body. For some, this may not be a bad thing, even an attraction, but as I became more and more disengaged the film’s eccentricities began to irritate and the mise-en-scene seemed increasingly constructed. The way the camera hangs on scenes departed, or the characters pause interminably before replying, saps the film of dramatic currency. It began to appear pretentious and self-serving, and I began to miss cheap thrills.