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CIFF: "The Man from London"

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 12, 2007 3:37PM

This is part of Chicagoist's continuing coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.

2007_10manfromlondon.jpgWe had high hopes for Bela Tarr's new opus The Man from London. He's something of a rising star on the film festival circuit, thanks to his long, intricately choreographed takes, usually 8-10 minutes of the camera slowly gliding around a space, taking in details. A Tarr film is akin to a waltzing glacier.

But that masterful technique fails him in his new film, which is an adaptation of a Georges Simeon mystery novel. A nightwatchman witnesses a fight late one night; a man is drowned, and a suitcase is left behind. The nightwatchman opens the suitcase and discovers that it's stuffed with cash. A few days later, an English inspector arrives and starts asking questions. Will the guy turn in the suitcase or keep it? Unfortunately, we didn't care. Tarr apparently instructed his actors to wear a perpetual scowl and say their lines as slowly as possible. They're not recognizable as real human beings, so there's little suspense about what's going to happen. Tilda Swinton is the only familiar face onscreen, and she seems like she's in another movie altogether: unlike everyone else, she's actually attempting a performance, but it doesn't help that she's dubbed into Hungarian.

The gorgeously saturated black & white cinematography coupled with the smooth-as-silk camera movement is often hypnotic, but The Man from London amounts to a bravura exercise that's ultimately hollow inside.

The Man from London screens tonight and Sunday. Call 312-332-FILM for details.