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The Man from London

Muenzinger Auditorium

The Man from London

NOTE: The 35mm print finally arrived! Here's your chance to see this rare Bela Tarr film on celluloid: Monday, Feb. 14th, at 7pm only.

Unless you keep a close eye on movie listings at museums and universities, you probably won't be able to see The Man From London, the latest enigmatic hunk of celluloid from the great Hungarian director Béla Tarr. It's not his best film—if you're discovering him for the first time, you'd do better to rent Damnation or his seven-hour masterpiece, Satantango. But when you're talking about Tarr's work, "best film" is a pretty high bar to set. The Man From London still feels like no other film that you've seen before. It's cerebral and lugubrious, yet simple as a fairy tale.

The Man from London follows a railroad track-switcher, Maloin (Miroslav Krobot), who witnesses from his tower one man killing another over a briefcase full of British pounds, then flees without taking the money. Maloin retrieves the briefcase, hides it away, and returns home to his angry, miserable wife (a bizarrely cast, Hungarian-dubbed Tilda Swinton) and dejected daughter (Erika Bok.) When a "famous English inspector" (Istvan Lenart) arrives to investigate the case, Maloin finds himself under suspicion, but the investigation is strangely vague—does the inspector really want to find the killer, or does he just want to keep the money for himself? This sounds like a thriller plot, but The Man From London is deliberately and rigorously unthrilling. It's less interested in story than in allegory, as that hidden suitcase of cash becomes a symbol for the corrosive power of human greed.

Based on a George Simenon novel, The Man From London is the closest thing Tarr has done to a genre film. His signature visual style—stark black-and-white images, with fluid, seemingly endless takes and a hypnotic accordion score—shares some traits with film noir, and there are moments here that seem meant to evoke The Third Man. But Tarr's project isn't Postmodern or nostalgic; it's mythic. His movies, even the imperfect ones, feel somehow inevitable, as if carved out of stone. Once you enter into their grave, melancholy rhythm (and stepping into the theater from the frenzy of modern life, that's no small order), you're captivated, and astonished once again by what cinema can do.

— Dana Stevens, Slate

The Man from London

Sun February 6, 2011, 7:00 only; Mon February 14, 2011, 7:00 only, Muenzinger Auditorium

France, 2007, in French, Black and White, 139 min, 1.66 : 1 • official site

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