A new riff on an old town, “London” is an ironic docu portrait of the U.K. capital hung on major events of a single year, 1992. Mildly offbeat item could prove a winner with select offshore auds able to tune into its dry humor. Pic has just entered U.K. commercial release.
Feature-length bow of former architect Patrick Keiller, the film is structured as a continuous commentary by an offscreen character (voiced by actor Paul Scofield) who’s returned to thecity after seven years to help his former lover, Robinson (never seen or heard), on some unspecified research project into London’s artistic past.
Together, they take five journeys across town, sampling the architec-ture and public spaces, as well as remarking on events of the year, such as premier John Major’s re-election, an IRA bombing campaign, the Euro monetary crisis and annual Notting Hill street carnival. The narrator mostly records his friend’s lofty views and thoughts on the metropolis.
Cute idea sometimes trips over its own intellectual conceit but generally succeeds, thanks to the quality of thought, cleverly balanced irony and Scofield’s fruity voicing. In Keiller’s liberal, generally anti-establishment take, London is portrayed as a rigid, unsociable city that punishes individualism, favors the solitary life and has historically discouraged Continental-style public sociability. In short, “a collection of interesting people who’d prefer to be elsewhere.”
Pic would benefit from tightening by about 15 minutes, and some thinning of its often statistics-heavy narration. Keiller’s 35mm lensing is immaculate, a series of static, well-composed tableaux juxtaposed in leisurely style. Music, mostly from Beethoven’s 15th string quartet, is well placed.