film log 2011

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 
dreary, drab, pale to the eye;

males, moles, Strong and Jones,
Firth, forth; his lovely bones.

Smiley, smokey, foggy, soggy,
London never seemed more dodgy. 

Retro, Russia, Istanbul,
Hardy this time keeps his cool. 

Cumberbatch is quite a catch
McBurney doesn’t have a match 

Oldman gets his Oscar nod
of all actors he’s a god

Panning, tracking, zooming in
Tomas Alfredson’s the King.

Crappy rhymes aside, go see Tinker Tailor: it’s pretty bloody brilliant.

I know I say this all the time, but nostalgia is one of the pillars upon which cinema is built. 90% of the films I’ve seen this year look to the past as a site of not only interesting stories and characters to be plundered, but also as some sort of mythical fantasy to restore our belief in a golden age of life and art, something we can retrieve perhaps though necromancy, bringing back the dead - not making but remaking, not creating but quoting. It was the case with one of my favourite films this year, the brilliant documentary Senna, and also one of my biggest disappointments, Super 8. I wallow in nostalgia for the past as much as any real cinéphile, but I am also growing increasingly suspicious and wary of the trickster mechanisms of retro-style filmmaking.

What Alfredson offers in Tinker Tailor is an extraordinary send-up of both a past time and of a past cinematic style, achieved through the combination of old-fashioned means and modernist narrative style. 

- There is not a hint of cheesy nostalgia in his London, not a whiff of imperial glory, not a majesty in whose service these soldiers operate - all you hear of the land of hope and glory repertoire is the distant sound of schoolchildren mangling a rendition of “Jerusalem”. 

- “The future is female” is written on the walls: somewhere out there there are women; somewhere out there is the present - not here. Here it’s the past. Here are men, born alone in a dusky, damp, drinkers’ world, trying to fuck each other. 

- What a joy to hear Russian, Hungarian, French and English in the same film.

- What a joy not to have anything over-explained.

- Alfredson’s film is incredibly classy and stylish without ever falling into the traps of props-porn or location tourism (even though we whooped with glee when we recognised Smiley’s house from the Georgian square across the road - hooray for Islington!)

- He can set up shots and like nobody’s business, and he is so incredibly well-balanced in his camera movements that I even managed to find some pleasure in his use of the zoom.

- Besides, of course great casting is half the job, and here he’s blessed with a brilliant ensemble of fascinating faces (John Hurt, Simon McBurney, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds), superb character actors (Toby Jones, an actor I have had the pleasure of working with, is just marvellous; so is Kathy Burke, in one of three female speaking parts in the film), and a wonderful, careful, determined lead in Gary Oldman.

- Dear David Dencik, I really enjoyed your work in this film. In another life your part would have been played by Peter Lorre, and you filled his shoes remarkably well.

- Dear Alberto Iglesias, the jazz piece at the beginning of this soundtrack is terrific and your score is unobtrusive and never calls attention to itself - which is possibly the best thing I could ever say about a soundtrack because I hate incidental and extradiegetic music.

- Dear Hoyte Van Hoytema, you are on your way to becoming one of my favourite cinematographers. Thank you for showing me more shades of beige than I thought were visible to the human eye.

- The film starts slow. I love slow films. If you don’t, stick with it - it gets really exciting about 45 minutes in.

- I better shut up now, Downton Abbey is about to start.