Monday, 16 January 2012

cutting edge of pseudery

What fairly recent movie garnered the following puffs on its dvd case? ("Mesmeric… This is film noir as metaphysical poetry… Extraordinary black and white camerawork" - Time Out. "extraordinary" - The Observer. "compelling" - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian. "majestic and mysterious"- Scotland on Sunday. "mesmerising… Swinton is just one highlight" - Jonathan Romney, Independent on Sunday.) And was a Cannes festival selection, at that? Answer: The Man From London, directed by Bela Tarr, 2007.

I recalled struggling with his earlier four hour effort, the dismal Satantango, whose opening sequence, a dark wet farmyard somewhere in Hungary, lasts for about half an hour – during which time we see some murky outbuildings, cattle crossing the mud in the wind and rain and nothing much else of any excitement or edification. We found ourselves eventually forced to fastforward in disbelief, and realised that nothing much else did happen during this interminable and lugubriously boring saga: nothing like our own dear and multiply-plotted Archers!

Anyhow, in all fairness, I checked out of our library this more recent film, because the time listed was only "90 mins approx". Also, The MFL was based on an author I admire, Simenon: this promised to be an unexpected marvel of psychological accuracy and gripping too. And the excellent and risktaking Swinton is always worth watching… Ah what a disappointment! The opening shot, up down and across, back and forth, along a ship's hull at night, was indeed leisurely. Thereafter the trades description act should have been invoked: a total of two hours ten minutes is not quite "90 mins approx", while all those carefully-selected, grandiose M-words and laudatory adjectives from various supposedly intelligent critics, from "mesmeric" onward, should have tipped us the wink. We dutifully stayed the course, again with considerable exasperation: was it really possible for any filmmaker to be so impossibly, wilfully slow, to show such complete and utter disdain for both narrative and audience?

Absurd multilingual dubbing and absolutely ludicrous 'storyline' didn't make for a riveting experience. Why should the extremely aged retiree Scotland Yard inspector, the eponymous TMFL, who speaks with the voice of Edward Fox, cross the Channel to investigate a missing sixty thousand quid – from a theatre box office of all unlikely places? He ignores a corpse in the harbour (Bastia apparently, rather than Belgium) and finally allows a murderer – the killer of the first killer, if you follow me – to go free with a large wodge of money and a pat on the back. (Tarr very much?) I don't think I have spoilt the film by hinting at the sheer absurdity of it all. Yes, it's indeed beautifully lit and photographed, but so what? Every face and object, longshot or closeup, is lingered on interminably, for no discernible purpose. A frustrated stills photographer Tarr may be or might have been, but an auteur he ain't. A pretty pretentious interview with The Man From Hungary is included as an 'extra'. This confirmed my misgivings and resolve never to watch another such piece of stodgily intellectualised boloney ever again. Life is too short, and good art is still shorter, but the Bela experience is far too long: beware and avoid!

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